Bill Halter outperformed the polls last night in the Arkansas Democratic primary for Blanche Lincoln's US Senate seat, chalking up 42.5% of the vote to Lincoln's 44.5% -- only 2% behind. D.C. Morrison pulled in 13%.
Only a week ago, the latest polling had Halter trailing Lincoln 46-37. It doesn't take a genius to see where this is headed. The momentum is all in Halter's favor for the June 8 runoff.
As Addy Stan writes today, it would not have happened had Blanche not insisted that the public option be removed from the health care bill:
When, during an appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show" in the midst of the health-care debate, FireDogLake's Jane Hamsher threatened Sen. Blanche Lincoln with a primary challenge, people though Hamsher was either full of bluster, nuts, or both. Tonight, nobody's laughing.
Together with Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald, Hamsher founded the PAC, Accountability Now, choosing as its first candidate Lieutenant Gov. Bill Halter, who tonight garnered enough votes to deny Lincoln the Democratic nomination unless she wins a run-off election against him.
It was a safe dare. As I said at the time, there were a number of people circling and contemplating a challenge. The public option was overwhelmingly popular with Arkansas Democrats, and Blanche's reasons for opposing one hardly pleased its opponents: the only thing she seemed firmly committed to was whatever the insurance industry wanted that day. People on both sides of the aisle were sick of Lincoln's cozy relationship with banks, insurance, drug companies and agribusiness, just to name a few.
Blanche responded on the floor of the Senate, saying she wouldn't be intimidated by "liberal interest groups" from outside Arkansas.
But it was the voters of Arkansas who said "no thanks" to Blanche's future services as a US Senator yesterday.
Lincoln has put on a big show of late "standing up to the banks" with her derivatives regulation amendment. She ran campaign ads saying it would stay in the financial regulation bill until the end. But the entire thing was a sham: the Senate Old Boys club kept the vote from happening until the primary in order to protect Blanche and give her something to campaign on. Dodd yanked it yesterday. The banks didn't want it. Blanche didn't utter a peep in protest.
Heading into the June 8 runoff, Lincoln is left with nothing to campaign on.
Last September, we told Lincoln to act like a Democrat, or we'd find someone who would.
Bill Halter's no raging liberal. But he is a Democrat, whereas Lincoln is a corporatist. Those looking to interpret the race's results on a strict right-left continuum are going to miss the relevant dynamics entirely. Halter's politics are pitched appropriately for the state of Arkansas, and like Morrison who stands somewhat to Lincoln's right, he also opposes the bank bailout that she voted for. His voters were casting a protest vote too. Morrison's 13% are not going to show up on June 8 and vote for the person they were expressly voting against in the primary. I'd bet 2% vote for Lincoln, 3-4% vote for Halter, and the rest stay home. Halter wins on lower turnout because protest voters are more motivated.
Halter is also polling better than Lincoln against Jon Boozeman, the Republican nominee. The DC establishment should not double down on their support for Lincoln (though no doubt the Chamber of Commerce will). The message being sent by the public could not be clearer. It's not so much an anti-incumbent sentiment as it is anti-Senate. People are tired of their arrogance, their sense of personal privilege, the way they completely dismiss the House and demand they swallow whatever Joe Lieberman wants. Over and over again, the Senate plays a game of "rotating villains" then manipulates their rules so that their big business contributors always win.
People aren't stupid. They understand what's happening.
Yesterday the House of Lords got a giant kick in the teeth from a public hungry for accountability. Contrary to the wisdom of the punditocracy, the country isn't moving to the right. It's the corporatists who are going down.