In response, Lincoln and her campaign have made a decision to be as mean as they have to be. She has been guilty of innuendo and distortions of his position. She has attacked him on Social Security in ways that are so cynically misleading as to be offensive. But the most offensive thing, I think, was a mailer from her campaign that said that Bill Halter has a prescription drug problem, then showed a picture of Halter and a pill bottle, and then accused him of being involved in a company that did shady drug deals. I think that’s a smear—the fact is he was on the board of a drug company that had a cancer drug and that got sued, not found guilty, for overstating what the cancer drug would do. Maybe on a national scale you folks in the big-time see that kind of thing all the time, but it’s just so unlike Blanche Lincoln. Her whole persona is of a nice, pleasant, well-meaning, centrist person, sort of a “good ole girl.” This campaign she’s adopted has been really disconcerting to me, and to a lot of people.
2. There’s a possibility we may see June 8 runoffs in both primaries.
If nobody gets more than 50 percent in the primary, number one and number two go it at for three more weeks. In the Democratic race, there’s also a third guy named D. C. Morrison, who is kind of a conservative crank. But so much money is being spent, both by the leading candidates and by outside groups, on ridiculous, incessant, unfair television advertising, that I think voters are getting sick of both of these people. We’re just inundated with the back and forth, and I think there’s a backlash against it. And there’s a possibility that this third candidate will get enough protest votes to force a runoff.
On the GOP side, polls show Lincoln losing to any Republican. You can call Joe Blow a Republican; he beats her. This led to a field of eight candidates. The original front-runner and establishment candidate was Gilbert Baker, a former state Republican Party chairman and a bona fide conservative state senator from Conway, a thriving Little Rock suburb. He’s energetic, well-liked, has been able to work with conservative Democrats, and has a good reputation in that context.
Late in the game, the state’s leading establishment Republican, John Boozman, a congressman representing the Third District, entered the race and took the lead. His vulnerability is that the climate is anti-bailout and he voted, like so many did, for TARP. Baker has now made a course correction and moved to the more vigorous right—he goes around the state with this blue tarp he bought at Wal-Mart, trying to get traction by hitting Boozman on the bailout. But as best I can see, it’s not getting much attention, because Halter and Lincoln so dominate the discussion.
Right now, the story seems to be, can Boozman win an eight-candidate primary without a runoff? It would stand to reason that he couldn’t, but he’s currently polling at 46 or 47 percent with 10 or 15 percent undecided. And the issue is, can anybody—probably Gilbert Baker—get him into a runoff, in which case they might get more public attention.
There’s a third man in the race, Jim Holt, who is an extreme conservative from northwest Arkansas. He has shown no traction, but people think there may be a hidden vote for him, some kind of Tea Party vote, that will surprise us on Election Day. He was the nominee against Lincoln six years ago, when nobody else dared run, and he got 44 percent just by being there. He would seem to be the other possible runoff contender.
3. The state’s voters can cast ballots in either primary—and while the general election will favor a Republican, all the attention during the primary campaign has been on the Democratic side.
There’s no party registration. You just walk in, and you can get yourself an “R” machine or a “D” machine, whatever you want. You can’t vote in both, and you can’t vote in the runoff for one if you voted in the other primary.
Most people will vote in the Democratic primary; it’s habit here. We might see four hundred to five hundred thousand votes on the Democratic side, and a hundred thousand on the Republican side. That’s just the way it’s always been. That has nothing to do with how it’s going to be in the general election, but that’s how the primaries get played out.