Lincoln blames Halter

LINCOLN BLAMES HALTER…. Of the sure-fire pickups for Senate Republicans, only one seat is held by a Democratic incumbent. That, of course, would be Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln (D), who’s definitely going to lose.

At this point, Lincoln is no doubt aware of her fate, and has already begun offering explanations for her political downfall. One in particular appears to be her favorite.

Beleaguered Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln says she would be in a dead heat with Republican Rep. John Boozman if it were not for the draining Democratic primary challenge she fought off this spring.

Speaking to Arkansas Public Radio in Little Rock on Monday, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee appeared to blame Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and the swarm of outside groups that backed his insurgent bid for her current perilous political position.

FM-89 reporter Kelly MacNeil asked Lincoln whether she thought she would be even with Boozman now if “it weren’t for that tough primary.” Lincoln replied, “Yeah, oh yeah … I believe I would.”

I suppose it’s only human nature to start coming up with rationales for failure, but this really isn’t compelling. In January, several weeks before Halter stated his intentions, Public Policy Polling showed Lincoln trailing Boozman by 23 points, 56% to 33%. As a rule, when an incumbent falls below 50%, it’s a sign of potential trouble — and Lincoln barely topped 30%.

I suspect Lincoln would respond that her campaign could have closed the gap over the course of the year if it weren’t for the Halter distraction. That strikes me as backwards — when a scandal-free incumbent enters an election year trailing by 23 points, it’s evidence that the party primary probably should have gone the other way. Lincoln’s fate seemed entirely obvious all year. Would Halter have done better? It’s impossible to say for sure, obviously, but he’s bound to have been in a better position right now than the incumbent.

For what it’s worth, I was re-reading some general advice I recommended Lincoln consider a year ago, and I still think it was the better option. As Arkansas has moved sharply to the right in recent years, Lincoln didn’t stand a chance aiming for some amorphous middle (to the right of her party, to the left of Republicans).

I suggested last November that Lincoln give ambitious populism a shot, positioning herself as a Kennedy-like guardian of those suffering under the status quo.

Arkansas has a high percentage of low-income families, struggling to get by. They’ll never vote Democratic on cultural and/or social issues, but they’re open to the Democratic message on economic policy — looking out for working families’ interests. A candidate who positioned herself as a populist people’s champion had a better shot than an apologetic Democrat who hopes Republicans won’t mind her party affiliation.

Lincoln chose a more predictable course, and now she’s going to lose.