It may not be the big news of the day, what with another white girl going missing, but this is a candidacy with potential long-term implications:

Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s road to re-election got tougher today.

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter announced in a video that he will be running against Lincoln in the Democratic primary.

"Washington is broken," he says in the video. "Enough is enough."

Among other images in the video, Halter is shown standing next to former President Bill Clinton. Halter worked on Clinton’s first presidential campaign and followed the former Arkansas governor to Washington. Halter worked six years in Clinton’s budget office, and two years at the Social Security Administration.

Lt. Gov. Halter to challenge Sen. Lincoln in Ark. Democratic primary

A former Clinton Administration official who says that "Washington is broken" isn’t exactly an inspiring introduction. It gets better though. For one thing, long time Slobber And Spittle left-border occupant Accountability Now is one of the organizations that recruited him:

Accountability Now is proud today to announce the first candidate we’ve recruited for the 2010 election: Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter, who will challenge Blanche Lincoln for her Arkansas Senate seat.

Accountability Recruits First Candidate for 2010: Bill Halter

Accountability Now is supporting Halter at least partly because Blanche Lincoln is one of the more despicable U.S. Senators in the Democratic Party. That’s worth a bit of support all by itself, I suppose, but there are always additional questions that I hope to get satisfactory answers to before I’ll support a candidate:

  1. Are his positions progressive?
  2. Is there evidence that he’ll actually live up to those positions? (call this the reverse of "Will he turn out to be as much of a punk as Barack Obama?"
  3. Can he win?

Initially, as I wrote in this comment yesterday at FireDogLake‘s article on the subject, I wasn’t sure what the answers to those questions were. After having got caught up, though, I’d say the answer to all three is "yes".

Certainly, compared to Senator Lincoln, Halter is a progressive. He helped get a public lottery passed in Arkansas to raise money for college scholarships, as his campaign website notes:

Bill Halter is Arkansas’ 14th Lieutenant Governor. His focus is education and jobs. He believes Arkansas must develop a skilled and educated work force to meet the challenges of a 21st century economy. To help, Lieutenant Governor Halter led the campaign to establish a state-run lottery in Arkansas with all proceeds dedicated to scholarships for Arkansas citizens to attend Arkansas colleges and universities. Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the lottery by an almost 2-to-1 vote.

Meet Bill

He and Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe disagreed about the lottery, and his relationship with Beebe reads like a rather testy one. A local columnist describes Halter a maverick liberal, which might not mean much on its own.

What does mean something is that Halter campaigned (Google cached copy) to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas.

Talking Points Memo published an interview with Halter trying to answer this question. To summarize, he favored the Employee Free Choice Act’s card check provision, which has been removed. He now supports a compromise that will make it easier for unions to hold elections. He also favors the public option for health care reform:

On this topic, Halter was very clear — he supports a robust public option, modeled on Medicare, that would compete directly with insurance companies. He said that if he were in the Senate today, he’d support using reconciliation to add a public option into the current Senate bill.

On the trail, Halter said he’ll use better messaging to sell his proposal to voters. "If you ask 100 Arkansans what ["public option"] means, you’re going to get 100 different answers," he said. "People don’t know what it is. So rather than go around talking about a "public option," I’m going to outline for people exactly what my plan is."

True Blue? TPM Asks Bill Halter: How Progressive Are You?

Hopefully, he’ll pick something nice and simple like, "Medicare for anyone who wants it".

He’s a bit less clear about the carbon cap-and-trade proposal, but that’s a complicated issue that progressives can’t agree on. I hardly expect clarity here from someone who has been focused on statewide issues the last few years.

A common theme in analyses of Halter is that he’s not well liked by the Arkansas Democratic Party (ADP):

The filing period for political candidacies in the primaries begins at noon Monday. It will continue until the next Monday at noon.

This heretofore will be called the Bill Halter Watch, at least until he does something.

Our lieutenant governor and lottery father is, while smart and analytical, widely disliked in the state’s Democratic establishment as a presumptuous outsider.

That is to say he wouldn’t have all that much to lose by challenging that establishment. Thus he’s dangerous, especially at a time of such volatility.

Now begins the Halter Watch

Since this columnist, John Brummett of Arkansas News, ultimately guessed that Halter would run for either the Senate or the 2nd Congressional District, I’ll give him some credit for knowing his territory.

Being disliked by the Arkansas Democratic Party sounds to me like an endorsement of sorts. It also sounds like a handicap, but we’ll get back to that in a momeent.

As for the question of whether Halter will actually do what he promises, in addition to the obvious fact that he’s honked a lot of powerful folks off by supporting better education opportunities, you can add this bit of evidence:

Led fight against an Arkansas initiative to ban gay and lesbian couples from being able to adopt.

Draft Bill Halter

Leading a gay rights campaign in Arkansas is one gigantic way of saying you’re no Mr. Present. He’s got guts, and the right people appear to hate those guts.

On the last question, of whether he can win, the picture is a bit cloudier. As I mentioned already, Halter is not the darling of the ADP. That’s a handicap, particularly in an insular state like Arkansas. Lincoln, on the other hand, has her own baggage, as Rasmussen reported last month:

Twenty-one percent (21%) of Arkansas voters have a very favorable opinion of Lincoln, but 43% view her very unfavorably. The latter number in particular is telling since her opponents are so little known. With the exception of Boozman, the number with very favorable or very unfavorable views of her opponents remains in single digits.

Election 2010: Arkansas Senate: Feb. 2, 2010

That kind of unfavorable rating isn’t likely to change significantly. Arkansans have had twelve years to observe Lincoln by now. Whatever they think they know about her, they’re not likely to change their minds. The Rassmussen poll isn’t all good news for Halter, though:

Lincoln’s reelection bid isn’t helped by the president’s numbers either. Obama lost Arkansas to John McCain by 20 points, 59% to 39%, in November 2008. But voters in the state are even more critical now. Thirty-three percent (33%) at least somewhat approve of the president’s job performance, while 66% disapprove. Those who strongly disapprove of the job the president is doing outnumber those who strongly approve by three-to-one – 59% to 20%. This is far more negative that Obama’s job approval ratings nationally in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

Election 2010: Arkansas Senate: Feb. 2, 2010

Perhaps even more ominous is this bit of news, which shows that better education can’t happen soon enough in Arkansas:

Fifty-four percent (54%) in Arkansas say it is possible to balance the federal budget without raising taxes. Twenty-four percent (24%) disagree.

Forty-seven percent (47%) favor an across-the-board income tax cut for all Americans, but 30% are opposed. However, 66% believe cutting taxes is a better way to create jobs than increasing government spending. Only nine percent (9%) say an increase in spending is better, and 17% say neither works.

Election 2010: Arkansas Senate: Feb. 2, 2010

These aren’t people who are likely to vote for a liberal. Liberals might not be inclined to vote for Halter, either, if the Arkansas editor Salon quoted yesterday is right:

[P]olls to date have shown that Halter is the one candidate Lincoln can beat — in a Democratic primary. Democrats know her and like her on a personal level. Hard-core liberals, maybe 15 percent of the vote, are sorely disaffected. But few of them hold much warmth for Halter. It’s personal chemistry. He simply hasn’t inspired much warmth, though he gets full credit for pushing the state’s adoption of a lottery devoted to college scholarships. Plenty of liberals, however, aren’t happy about the lottery. It’s a regressive tax, they think, that will favor middle-class recipients of college scholarships and ultimately be extra money eaten up by college price increases.

Brantley on the Halter-Lincoln race

Reminded of how Lincoln has sold them out, though, liberals might come around. Halter is more like them than Lincoln is. That much should be obvious. A Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll conducted last December shows that while Lincoln leads Halter 42 – 26, with 32 percent undecided. Many voters clearly hadn’t formed an opinion about Halter at the time. That makes it more likely that Halter will gain support than Lincoln. While Halter didn’t poll as well as Lincoln in potential general election matchups, there were more undecideds there, as well, and Halter was within a few points of all the potential GOP candidates.

One possibility that progressives will have to plan for, I think, is that if Halter wins the election, the ADP may decline to work for Halter’s election in the general. If Halter’s candidacy is seen as threatening to their own power, then they very well might.

The bottom line is that Lincoln is vulnerable, at least to a primary challenge. Whether either she or Halter can win in the general election is another question, but I think at this point Halter has less baggage than Lincoln does. Lincoln may not have as big an advantage in fund raising as one would think, either:

A labor source confirmed to TPMDC tonight that the AFL-CIO voted to back new Senate candidate Lt. Gov Bill Halter over Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the May 18 Democratic primary in Arkansas. Three unions within the umbrella group have committed to a $3 million independent expenditure on Halter’s behalf.

AFL-CIO Backs Halter In Arkansas, Commits $3M To Defeat Lincoln

Lincoln’s pissed off some powerful people, too. Labor can put boots on the ground – if Halter needs people to help out his campaign, as he very well may, labor can probably provide some.

Bill Halter is a progressive alternative to Blanche Lincoln who has a chance of winning. That win won’t be an easy one, but I think the potential reward is worth some time and effort on our part.

Accountability Now has been encouraging people to give small donations through ActBlue’s Bill Halter page, suggesting $5. I’ll at least double that. Depending how things go in the next few weeks, Halter may end up as part of the Slobber And Spittle Blue slate. It’s not a lucrative list, but it’s pretty exclusive, and Halter appears to fit the criteria.



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