June Runoff To Decide Senate Primary In Arkansas

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The Democratic Senate primary in Arkansas isn't over. Because no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, the two top vote-getters will compete in a runoff on June 8. The winner — either incumbent Blanche Lincoln or Lt. Governor Bill Halter — will face GOP nominee Rep. John Boozman in the fall.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

We turn now to one key primary election that isn't over yet. That would be the Democratic primary in Arkansas. No candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote on Tuesday, which means the two top vote-getters will compete in a runoff in June to decide who will face the Republican nominee in the fall.

That runoff pits incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln against the lieutenant governor of Arkansas, Bill Halter. And we'll hear more from both candidates in a few minutes. First, NPR's Mara Liasson is here with a little background.

MARA LIASSON: Arkansas is already considered a potential pickup for the Republicans this fall, so national Democratic leaders were hoping to avoid anything that prolonged the infighting. They didn't get their wish.

On Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor Halter, backed by organized labor and liberal groups like MoveOn.org, got 43 percent of the vote, keeping Senator Lincoln, who'd been endorsed by President Obama, to just 45 percent. A third candidate got 13 percent of the vote.

The real winner might have been Republican Congressman John Boozman, who won his primary and will not have to face a runoff.

Representative JOHN BOOZMAN (Republican, Arkansas): You know, they've been asking me, who are we going to run against, and I have no idea. But I know that the key to this thing is, is we're right on the issues.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIASSON: Polls show Boozman running almost 20 points ahead of either Democrat, so one of the big challenges for Halter and Lincoln over the next three weeks is to convince voters that he or she is actually the stronger candidate in the fall.

The demographic breakdown of Tuesday's vote confounded many analysts. Halter had run against Lincoln from the left, saying she was not a real Democrat because she voted against labor-backed legislation and opposed the so-called public option in the health care bill.

But Lincoln did better than Halter in the urban, more liberal parts of the state, while Halter did better in rural, more conservative areas, despite the fact that Lincoln is the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

It could be that rural Democratic voters in Arkansas are just as anti-Washington and anti-incumbent as their Republican counterparts.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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