It’s down to the final stretch for Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who each are predicting a victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff election. But of course, only one Arkansas candidate can prevail, and incumbents aren’t doing so well this season.
Lincoln and Halter are criss-crossing the state in hopes of enticing voters who were almost evenly divided between the two during the May 18 primary that they should head to the polls a second time in the election that really counts. Team Halter spun his 43 percent second place finish to her 45 percent as a victory since the incumbent senator wasn’t able to hold more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.
It’s tough to know if the three polls taken since the election — all conducted by the same pollster — showing Halter in the lead are accurate, but progressives and union activists who support Halter say the momentum is on his side. Political consultants not willing to speak on the record think Halter has a shot, but hedge their bets since Lincoln has a strong early voting program that could put her over the top.
A Democratic source in Arkansas familiar with the campaigns told me in an interview that it looks like it will be “very close” on Tuesday, and said the momentum appears to be with Halter. The source, who supports Lincoln, said one problem that’s cropped up is that some of her constituents say her Senate office is not always responsive or quick to respond.
“This is not so much how much they love him, it’s they are pissed at her. She brought a lot of this on herself,” the source said. “If you don’t call your people back and respond to them, they get upset.”
The Democrat said that with some voters already doubting Lincoln, the negative ads that have filled the television airwaves just reinforce that sentiment. “If Halter wins he will forever change the way politics is done in Arkansas, because he only did the hard work to get here in the last six weeks, and he did it all with paid media,” the source said.
The Democrat also believes Halter would lose to Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) who captured his party’s nomination May 18, a development the source said could cost the party their last holdout in the south.
I interviewed Halter briefly Friday and he was on message, telling me that he wants voters across Arkansas to know that if they want change, they can’t send the same person back to Washington. It’s a nearly identical message to one he offered in earlier interviews and on the stump, but this time he says he’s confident he’ll win on Tuesday.
“We feel very good about our ability to capture the lion’s share of voters,” Halter said, adding that since the first election his campaign has gotten a new wave of volunteers. He’s also pushing early voting, and said voters keep telling him they’ve already cast an early ballot for him in the runoff.
But, Halter wouldn’t make a specific prediction. “I’m not focused on a margin, we’re just trying to drive to get 50 percent plus one,” he said.
The Democratic candidates are still sparring over the influence from outside groups, with Lincoln’s camp sending a pointed memo Thursday totaling ads that labor unions and progressive organizations are running on Halter’s behalf. The memo claimed that Halter and the groups have spent a total of $2.7 million. It said that Lincoln had spent $650,993 while two other groups had spent $541,774 for a total of $1.19 million.
Halter defended himself in our interview by noting there are thousands of union members in Arkansas, and 20,000 MoveOn.org members there. Lincoln never agreed to a runoff debate, so it’s been all shoe leather and television advertising.
Lincoln, meanwhile, has enlisted former President Bill Clinton first for an in-person (but sparsely attended) rally in Little Rock and also as the star in her closing argument television ad.
The TPM Poll Average gives Halter a lead of 49.7%-44.9%. But that’s based on just one pollster, Research 2000.
As we have reported, both camps are targeting the 13 percent of voters who picked conservative Democrat D.C. Morrison on May 18. Lincoln’s camp also has courted female voters, and the Democratic source said that might be the only thing to save her Tuesday.