Monday, 1. March 2010 23:27
Lt. Governor Halter announced today that he will challenge sitting Senator Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic Primary for a chance to face the Republican nominee in the November 2010 elections.
“Washington is broken,” Halter said in a video on his campaign website. “Bailing out Wall Street with no strings attached, while leaving middle-class Arkansas taxpayers with the bill; protecting insurance company profits instead of protecting patients and lowering health costs; gridlock, bickering and partisan games while unemployment is at a 25-year high. Enough’s enough.”
Conventional wisdom suggests that Halter’s entry into the primary will ensure that Lincoln is a “yes” vote on reconcilliation for Obamacare and that she will tack back toward the “progressives” who make up the Democratic Party’s Left.
As this observer puts it:
“The more problematic aspect of Halter’s challenge is that it will push Lincoln left,” she says. “After all, he is running because he doesn’t feel that Lincoln has been a solid Democrat. Even if she wins the primary comfortably, this move left further weakens her for the general.”
But count me as a voice in the wilderness. I think these politicos are counting eggs not yet in the basket. First, while it is true that Halter has ties to progressive groups in Washington, D.C. and he is a likely supporter of Obamacare, note that he said nothing in his annoucement specifically about the bill or calling for reconcilliation to get it passed. Rather, he made a classic populist / outsider appeal in launching his bid.
And it it difficult to see a “pass healthcare now!” appeal gaining alot of traction with Arkansas voters. As the recent Arkansas Poll shows, Arkansas voters are opposed to Obamacare. This includes the public option, which has polled fairly well nationally when set apart from the bill being pushed through in congress.
Nearly half of all those surveyed – 48 percent – opposed a public option, with 39 percent supporting the creation by the government of “a new health insurance plan to compete with private health insurance plans.”
As Dr. Parry notes, the only demographic that registered support (and even that was rather tepid) were the uninsured, and they constituted only 15% of the poll’s sample. Since the Arkansas Poll is not oriented towards “likely voter” samples (754 adult Arkansans) such as Rassmussen, I would expect that this demographic is even smaller when we are talking about voters in the 2010 elections.
IOW, Halter has a strong incentive to avoid taking the Scott Brown route: targeting Lincoln on healthcare and making it one of his primary campaign messages. Rather, he is more likely to try and tap into voter angst over spending and partisanship. The simple fact of the matter is that, in Arkansas, Democratic primary battles aren’t particularly leftwing. While Arkansas is generally more acceptant of government spending (i.e. education) than many of her sister states in the South, there is little evidence that a sucessfull challenge to Lincoln could be mounted by rallying “progressives” in the Arkasas Democratic primaries. There just aren’t enough of those votes. Most of them are to be found within the city limits of Fayetteville (and the big university cities), Little Rock, and some of the eastern border towns. Too few to be had in order to tip the balance against the centrist Democratic votes that make up the bulwark of voters in Arkansas. It is important to remember that most registered voters in Arkansas are Democrats and that there are a considerable number of moderates and conservatives who identify with the Democratic party here. In fact, there are more Democratic party identifiers who call themselves “conservatives” than there are who call themselves “progressives” in Arkansas. True, the primary will tend to skew further Left than the median Democratic general election voter, but I don’t think it will do so enough to force Lincoln to substantially tack Left. Certainly not enough to change her vote on the defining political issue of this election cycle.
Furthermore, while Halter constitutes a quality challenger to Lincoln (he holds statewide office), I do not believe he has much of a chance in unseating Lincoln before she gets to a general election. He will be at a considerable fundraising disadvantage, and while some national money might be had from liberal organizations trying to push Lincoln on her healthcare vote, it is unlikely to even approach the $5,000,000 that Lincoln reportedly has at her disposal. Even progressives in Arkansas, upset over health care, are unlikely to turnout to vote for a certain or near-certain loser. Halter’s most likely impact on the race would not be to shift Lincoln to the Left (as that way lies doom for Lincoln’s hopes of retaining the seat), but rather it would cause her to spend significant monies from her campaign warchest in a primary contest. Further weakening her general election bid to keep the seat in the hands of the Democrats.
Thus I remain highly skeptical that Halter’s decision will alter Lincoln’s vote on health care. She has very little chance of retaining the seat as it stands now anyway. If she decides to abandon all hope and look to the Obama administration to reward her vote for Obamacare, that won’t have much to do with Halter. If she decides she can’t win but would like to maintain her viability in the state for future elective office, then Halter won’t influence that decision either. And if she decides to try and persevere until November, well, Halter’s primary challenge is still irrelevant because to have any chance in the general she has to vote “no” on Obamacare. It is too unpopular with Arkansas voters, and would give the Republican an easy campaign message to hammer on in the general. In that case she simply must hope that Halter falls short and that she has enough residual support in the state to eek out a victory over likely Republican challenger, Boozman. Ideally, her opposition to Obamacare would defuse some of the Right’s anger and intensity over the issue, holding Republican-voting turnout in the state–already likely to be higher than it has been in several cycles–to a minimum.
So any way you slice it and despite appearances, her decision on Obamacare isn’t likely to have anything to do with Halter’s primary challenge. If she thinks she has a chance in November, she’ll stay a “no” vote on Obamacare. If, on the other hand, she thinks Ambassador Lincoln has a nice ring to it…