Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Republican incumbents are not alone in facing challenges from their own side. U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln is a moderate Democrat from Arkansas. She was preparing for a tough battle with a Republican in the fall. First, though, she will need to get past a well-known, well-funded Democrat who announced his primary candidacy this week. Here's NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: Senator Blanche Lincoln is one of those Blue Dog Democrats, and she's fighting for her political life. She describes herself as a centrist and an independent. Her first, official 2010 campaign ad is all about how she's been willing to disagree with her own party repeatedly.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: This is why I voted against giving more money to Wall Street, against the auto company bailout, against the public option health-care plan, and against the cap-and-trade bill that would have raised energy costs on Arkansans.

GONYEA: The ad then ends with this.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

INSKEEP: Because I don't answer to my party. I answer to Arkansas.

GONYEA: But her liberal critics - many of them from outside Arkansas and angered by Lincoln's position on health care and other issues - say it's an ad that a Republican could run. They are cheering Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter's entry into the race with this Web announcement.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

L: Right now, Washington's not working for Arkansas families, but it ought to. If you want your government dedicated to helping middle-class families rather than protecting special interests, then join my campaign.

GONYEA: Halter is positioning himself as the real Democrat in the race. On the issue that's affecting so many races across the country this year, health care, he differs from Lincoln. Halter favors giving the public the option of voluntarily buying into a health-care program like Medicare. He's already won a very important endorsement from the Arkansas AFL-CIO. That means money and volunteers.

Arkansas labor leader Alan Hughes says union members feel abandoned by Blanche Lincoln.

M: It's like everybody feels like their voice has just dropped on deaf ears with Senator Lincoln. Every time you hear something, it seems like she's favoring everything about pro-business.

GONYEA: Lincoln does have the support of President Obama, despite their differences on health care.

Political scientist Janine Parry, of the University of Arkansas, says Lincoln's approval ratings have fallen, particularly among independents - some of whom think she should be more supportive of the president, while others see her as too close to Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

INSKEEP: She just can't seem to make either camp happy.

GONYEA: But Parry also says the intense national interest in the race poses a risk to challenger Halter. He's likely to get a lot of outside support from groups such as MoveOn.org, which hopes to raise a million dollars for him.

INSKEEP: The perception that he would be a tool of those groups, that he's an instrument of the national left, that's simply not going to play well in Arkansas.

GONYEA: Halter has an uphill battle. It's always tough to knock off an incumbent in a primary election, but the race makes Arkansas' May 18th primary one of the nation's most interesting this year.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.