- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hoping to avoid becoming the next high-profile incumbent to fall this political season, Sen. Blanche Lincoln is banking on a last-minute campaign boost from former President Bill Clinton to pull out a come-from-behind win in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff vote.

Mr. Clinton, a favorite son, has come home in recent days to stump for Mrs. Lincoln, who also enlisted the former Arkansas governor in her radio ads.

Still, with less than a week to go, the incumbent two-term senator faces a slight deficit in her race against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Rep. John Boozman from Fort Smith has already nailed down the Republican nod and figures to be a strong contender in November.

Mrs. Lincoln, like congressional moderates from Pennsylvania, Utah and Alabama who have already been tossed out in 2010, is under fire from her party’s restive base. In Mrs. Lincoln’s case, a Democratic Party left wing frustrated with her votes on labor issues and her lukewarm support of the Obama administration’s health care bill has risen to help bankroll Mr. Halter’s challenge.

“I know you’re angry at Washington,” Mrs. Lincoln said in her latest campaign commercial. “Believe me, I heard you on May 18” - the day she was pushed into a runoff after failing to get a clear majority in the Democratic primary.

The race has become one of the most expensive contests in Arkansas history - more than $10 million combined and counting - with Mrs. Lincoln backed by business groups and establishment Democrats like Mr. Clinton and President Obama, and Mr. Halter riding national support from unions and environmentalists.

One such “green” group, the League of Conservation Voters, jumped into the campaign on Mr. Halter’s behalf Wednesday with a new ad criticizing Mrs. Lincoln’s ties to the oil and gas industry.

And Mr. Halter has pulled in other out-of-state support - especially from California.

In fact, according to a McClatchy Newspapers report, California residents lead all states, including Arkansas, in individual contributions to Mr. Halter, a Stanford graduate and a former Clinton administration official.

The Clinton connection to both candidates drew a provocative challenge Thursday from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which asked the Halter campaign pointedly whether the former president had intervened, as he had done in the Pennsylvania Senate race, on behalf of the Obama administration to dissuade the lieutenant governor from running against Mrs. Lincoln.

Mr. Clinton has been sharply critical of the opposition to Mrs. Lincoln.

He said organized labor is using the Arkansas race to punish Mrs. Lincoln, who voted against a bill that would have eased restrictions on union organizing.

“In other words, this is about using you and manipulating your votes to terrify members of Congress from other states,” Mr. Clinton said

Maryland-based pollster Del Ali’s Research 2000 poll last week had Mr. Halter at 47 percent leading Mrs. Lincoln with 44 percent - but that was before Mr. Clinton weighed in.

“If Clinton hadn’t become involved,” he said, “I absolutely think Halter would win this … but Clinton is such an ‘X factor.’ He’s still very popular in the state. But will that translate into votes on Tuesday? I don’t know.”

There is skepticism about Mr. Clinton’s clout: He campaigned unsuccessfully in his home state for Democratic presidential hopefuls John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.

Whoever emerges victorious on Tuesday from the Democratic Party’s internal fight will face an uphill battle in the fall. Mr. Boozman, the Republican nominee, holds a huge lead over both Democrats.

A poll last week from Rasmussen Reports had Mr. Boozman, currently the state’s only Republican congressman, with 60 percent of the vote against Mr. Halter and 66 percent if it’s Mrs. Lincoln.

One wild card in the race is “tea party” candidate Trevor Down, who is running on the ballot as an independent. If he wins enough votes, as other grass-roots campaigns have across the country, he could siphon “values voters” away from the GOP in November.

This article is based in part on staff and wire service reports.

• David Eldridge can be reached at deldridge@washingtontimes.com.

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