WASHINGTON, May 18, 2010— -- Sen. Blanche Lincoln is one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats up for reelection this year. Despite her moderate record, being a Democrat in Republican-trending Arkansas in this political environment has presented her with the toughest political battle of her career.
"We're in the homestretch right now and we want to get past that finish line," Lincoln said in a video sent to her supporters Monday evening.
That softness in her political standing coupled with disenchantment from the liberal activists and grassroots inside the Democratic party invited a feisty and well financed primary challenge by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
Labor unions have poured more than $5 million into Halter's candidacy as he pounded away at Lincoln for her vote for TARP and her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act or card check, which is a high priority for the labor movement.
"When [Richard] Trumka ran for president of the AFL-CIO, he said he was going to hold politicians accountable and only support candidates who support working families. Almost everyone said, 'That's all talk, people always say that, where's the proof?'" AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale said.
"Well, now everyone has seen the action to back up the talk. From now on when we say, just because you have a D next to your name you don't automatically get our support, everyone certainly knows that we mean it," he added.
Lincoln joined her fellow Democrats voting for the health care bill on Christmas Eve 2009. If she wan't facing a significant Democratic primary challenge, it is unlikely that she would be touting that vote in her television advertising as she has been doing in the closing days of this campaign.
As Agriculture Committee chairwoman, Lincoln took the lead on regulating the derivatives piece of the financial regulatory reform bill currently on the floor of the Senate. She negotiated to get her version of derivatives regulation into Connecticut Democrat Sen. Chistopher Dodd's final bill, and she has been making sure every Democrat in Arkansas knows that she took that populist stance against Wall Street.
In addition to her record not matching up with what the more liberal primary electorate inside her party wants, Lincoln could also fall victim to the general voter disenchantment with incumbents and Washington insiders.
This race may very well be headed for a runoff three weeks later. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates (Lincoln and Halter, no doubt) will move on to the runoff election.
If Lincoln wins the nomination, Big Labor will still have quite a bit of explaining to do about its political potency and its decision to sink millions of dollars into this losing intra-party effort.
"She's getting hit by the left," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told CNN on Monday. "And she's got a very strong challenge from the right."
Lincoln's mission is to survive that difficult squeeze.