Tuesday, December 22, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Stanley Reed calls it quits

The swarming field of Republican candidates for United States senator swelled by one more a couple of weeks ago with the entry of Stanley Reed, whom some considered to be the heavy hitter that the party needed to defeat Senator Blanche Lincoln.

After a marvelous seven-day campaign, Reed quit the race Friday. His blood pressure apparently elevated sharply and his campaign reported that the farmer’s family worried that the campaign wouldn’t be good for his health.

Unless you are peculiarly suited for politics, a campaign for the Senate, particularly in the current nasty climate, cannot be good for the health.

One week was sufficient for Stanley Reed’s political education, which suggests that he is a faster learner than most. Running for the Senate is not the pleasant romp that is a race for president of the sophomore class. There are some vengeful people out there, mostly in his party.

Reed’s entry in the race buoyed some Republicans, who believed he had the personal wealth, prestige and connections to mount a credible campaign against his old friend, Senator Lincoln. His extensive agricultural interests, presidency of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, leadership in the American Farm Bureau, friendship with Mike Huckabee and 10-year term on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees gave him gravitas that the seven other candidates lacked.

We doubted that he could prevail against even that field of lackluster candidates. He had great appeal to the establishment wing of the Republican Party that values business credentials. But that is a badly diminished force in Republican politics. To win against men who have better bona fides with the religious and social conservatives who now dominate the Republican electorate, he would have to show extraordinary talent. His geographic base, the farm delta, turns out few voters in Republican primaries. Benton County alone will produce more votes in the Republican primary than the length of the delta.

His biggest problem, he must have realized almost instantly, was his longtime association with Senator Lincoln, Democrats and Democratic policy. Last winter she had inserted a lavish statement in the Congressional Record extolling his gifts to the state of Arkansas. She mentioned his leadership of the Lee Academy, a private school set up in his hometown in 1969 for white children after the federal government ordered the county schools integrated.

No sooner had Reed formalized his candidacy than conservative bloggers attacked his association with Lincoln and other Democrats.

You can be sure that his opponents would not have let it pass unnoticed that his vast farming interests in St. Francis and Lee counties took in more than $5 million in farm payments from the government from 1996 through 2007. He testified against President George W. Bush’s attempt to limit the amount of government payments to wealthy farmers, one of Bush’s few efforts to cut the mounting federal budget deficits.

Reed said he was running for the Senate because Democrats were running up the deficit. He took the subsidies and defended them because they were available and the key to America’s successful food policy. It does not, however, make him a credible deficit hawk or a simon-pure Republican. The new Republican Party does not let bygones be bygones.

It would have been a very uncomfortable campaign, not conducive to an ordinary man’s health. Stanley Reed will be a much happier man for his decision. He has our best wishes.