This season's Democratic primary in Arkansas, the run-off for which will probably be over when you read this, gives plenty of evidence as to how juvenile and wasteful so much our nation's election process currently is and which you are being asked to contribute to. The two top candidates, incumbent U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln and Arkansas' Lt. Governor Bill Halter, have essentially accused each other of the same unpopular stances: taking jobs out of Arkansas, wanting to cut or privatize Social Security, cozying up with big Pharma or Big Oil. They've defended themselves against those attacks, mailed about the same number of flyers (at least 30, five from each arriving at some homes in one day), and tried to keep up or outspend each other with TV ads that run back to back on multiple channels. There is no way for most voters to decipher who is telling the truth, thus confusing anyone who didn't have an opinion before listening to a candidate.
This race is being watched nationally because Lincoln, who has been a senator for 12 years, is among those moderate Democrats who bucked progressives in the Senate and their President all they could. Lincoln was the last hold-out senator to sign the Health Care bill that needed 60 votes before leaving the Senate for House additions. In a state becoming pro-Republican, she apparently wanted to represent that party's wishes, too. But can anyone do that given the polarized parties these days? This move cost her dearly with many Democrat supporters back home. When they began campaigning for her defeat, she capitulated and hastily tried to include a "ban derivatives altogether" amendment in the Senate Finance Reform Bill before the vote. She didn't have a chance, as the Senate voted to shut down further amendment discussions and voted on what was already in the bill. But it made her look like a Democrat again, for a while, going up against Wall Street.
We used to think the incumbent had the name recognition advantage. And surely Lincoln still does. Both President Obama and ex-President Bill Clinton have recorded phone messages for her. But Halter has put several recorded phone messages across the state. He nearly matched votes with Lincoln in the initial primary that had three in the race. Now Halter's numbers are slightly ahead of Lincoln's. Someone asked him if Washington offered him a job to quit the race, and he answered 'no.' Perhaps there is no need in getting him out of the race, since neither Democrat is closing the substantial polling gap created by the top Republican contender, U.S. Representative John Boozman, who hails from Northwest Arkansas, a corporate boomtown area that includes Wal-Mart, J.B. Hunt Trucking, and Tyson Foods.
There's been a fair amount of suspicious political activity, too. Halter's campaign offices got calls and emails decrying the disappearance of Halter yard signs from various parts of the state. They reported that Lincoln backers were either blocking Halter signs with Lincoln signs or outright stealing Halter yard signs overnight. Lincoln yard signs have blossomed like flowers in a 30 by 30 foot patch across from the Forrest City Court House where early voting took place. There are 21 identical Lincoln signs there and just two for Halter.
A popular political pundit wrote that Halter won all three of the early debates between the two candidates. Longtime political journalist John Brummett, with Arkansas News Service, wrote to tell people of his vote in the initial primary and why:
It turns out that I need to bring you up to date on how I voted, only because I related in a column some weeks back that I'd told a pollster I was voting, with nose held ever more tightly, for U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Discerning readers probably sensed what was happening over the last few weeks. I have related repeatedly -- ad nauseam, some say -- my festering disenchantment with Lincoln's cynically dishonest campaign. In the end I simply could not reward her campaign with a vote. Lincoln has persisted in vile mailers falsely accusing Bill Halter of out-sourcing jobs and wanting to harm Social Security when all he did was sit on a board of a company that placed a tiny percentage of newly created jobs in India and acknowledge a debate questioner's premise that we need responsible spending increases and benefits cuts to make Social Security work in the long run. Another mailer, this one creepy, smeared Halter as a participant in "shady drug deals." Lincoln's excuse is that she's taken special interest hits for two years over health care and labor issues, and is entitled to fight back.
By early Wednesday, voters will know the results of this Arkansas race. But now you know some of the background that has determined that election. If this doesn't convince you we must get campaign finance reform, you haven't been asked to donate to your candidate enough times.