Arkansas Primary: Left Challenges Lincoln

In Tuesday's Senate primary in Arkansas, Democrat Blanche Lincoln faces a challenge from her left.

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WADE GOODWYN: I'm Wade Goodwyn, covering the Arkansas primary. Blanche Lincoln can tell you it's no bargain being a Southern Democrat these days. The two-term senator has tried to negotiate a middle path on highly charged issues like health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act. That's left Lincoln vulnerable to accusations that she blows with the wind, a charge her opponent Bill Halter is happy to make.

Mr. BILL HALTER (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, Arkansas): Well, I think the major dissatisfaction was you couldn't get a straight answer. She was for the public option, she wrote an op-ed in the state newspaper saying she was for the public option. Then, on the very day we were having a health clinic here in Little Rock, she went down to the floor of the Senate and said she's opposed to the public option, but not only that, that she would filibuster the public option.

On Employee Free Choice, she said she was for it. She was a co-sponsor of it. Then she whirled around and said she was against it, and then she told the leadership she'd filibuster it.

GOODWYN: Buffeted from one side by party leadership intent on reform and from the other by angry Tea Party followers who saw any reform as socialist, Lincoln says she's just trying to please her constituents.

Senator BLANCHE LINCOLN (Democrat, Arkansas): I'm doing the best that I know how to do, and I'm getting out there talking to Arkansans. I'm a problem-solver. I can look for results, and I figure out how to get results for the people of Arkansas.

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GOODWYN: Arkansas, one of the poorest states in the country, has been absolutely whacked by the recession. At the Little Rock Farmer's Market, Jack and Joe Sundell(ph), The Dill Pickers, play Depression-era tunes as shoppers hunt for bargain vegetables.

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THE DILL PICKERS (Music Group): (Singing) There's a dark and a troubled side of life.

GOODWYN: Bank consultant Al Ford(ph) voted for Lincoln the last two times she ran, but this time, he's voting for Halter, the lieutenant governor, because of Lincoln's support of the health care bill, even though Halter wishes the health care bill went further. The legislation's insurance mandate is a non-starter for Ford.

Mr. AL FORD (Bank Consultant): No way am I going to support anything like that, and it is shocking that she would do that when she knows, probably think, like, 65 percent of the Arkansans oppose the bill, but more than 80 percent oppose that provision.

GOODWYN: Ford says he wants reform, he's not exactly sure what kind of reform, but he hates what's passed. But Dr. Lawrence Braggs(ph), a church pastor, says he'll vote for Lincoln a third time.

Dr. LAWRENCE BRAGGS (Pastor): Me personally, I stand with Blanche Lincoln. She's very experienced, and for anyone to say she's turning her back on Arkansas, they don't know the facts.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We also heard from Brian Naylor in Kentucky and Don Gonyea in Pennsylvania, looking ahead to tomorrow's key Senate primaries.

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THE DILL PICKERS: (Singing) Sunny side of life. It will help most every day, we'll frighten all away, if we keep on the sunny side of life.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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