Monday, June 14, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Blanche in trouble

Sen. Blanche Lincoln squeaked out a narrow victory in the Democratic runoff primary Tuesday, confounding the national media that had become enthralled with an Arkansas election for the first time in 35 years, since a young governor defeated the international icon J. William Fulbright for the Senate.

The election was supposed to be a barometer of the national mood, the extent to which people were furious with Washington and with incumbents and whether a waffling centrist Democrat could be ousted by the angry left, such as it is, in her own party. Those were good story lines for the pundits, but they had little to do with the Arkansas election.

The race between Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter was as traditional as it gets. A weak senator with 12 years in the Senate and four in the House of Representatives under her belt barely withstood the challenge of an energetic politician whom too many traditional Democrats, even those of liberal persuasion, did not trust.

After a three-week runoff campaign marked by wasted extravagance and mindless demagoguery from both candidates and surrogate groups, neither side could get its voters back to the polls in big numbers. Lincoln lost 13,000 votes in the three weeks, but Halter lost even more, 16,000. With help from Bill Clinton and President Obama, Lincoln was able to get more of the Democratic faithful back to the polls even if they were not wildly enthusiastic.

The result was not a good portent for her in November. But she has a small glimmer of hope. Her Republican opponent is Rep. John Boozman, who is as close to a kindred spirit as one can be and hail from the other party. She is a waffling and undependable Democrat and he a somnolent Republican who votes in lockstep with the Republican leadership. When we say lockstep we mean 100 percent of the time. That is how the country got into the mess it’s in. She is not the best person to make that case, but it is at least a possibility.

Lincoln now will have to defend her vote for national health insurance and do it straightforwardly and unapologetically. That is about all that separates the two candidates, and he made it clear the day after the election that health insurance would be his big issue.

If she were a Dale Bumpers, she would educate the people of Arkansas on that complicated law and have them loving it by November. She has few options to trying it anyway. Maybe she could have Bumpers and David Pryor stand in for her. We’ll ask them.

—Ernie Dumas