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Spotlight: Almanac of American Politics


Blanche Lincoln in for Tough Re-election in 2004

Sen. Blanche Lincoln
by Lucas Everidge

The smallest Southern state in both population and size, Arkansas has turned into a fierce battleground for Democrats and Republicans. Heavily sought after are the conservative-leaning, independent voters. Historically, Arkansas has elected moderate Democrats like Dale Bumpers and David Pryor, but public disgust with the state's own Bill Clinton in the 1990's gave Republicans new appeal. Consequently. Arkansas' two Democratic senators walk a fine line to please their traditional moderate constituents, while not alienating their more liberal Democratic base.

As in Texas and Louisiana in the 1990's, Republicans made greater inroads into Arkansas' political offices, systematically knocking off historically Democrat-held seats for Governor and Lt. Governor. Bush targeted Arkansas in the 2000 Presidential election. He appeared in Northwest Arkansas on Election Eve, and ended up with 51 percent of the state vote. Bush carried Arkansas; however, it was his lowest percentage among the Southern states (except, of course, Florida).

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In 2004, Sen. Blanche Lincoln is up for re-election to a second term and, by all accounts, the race will be highly competitive. Lincoln stopped the Republican advance in Arkansas in her 1998 election, where she defeated Fay Boozman 55 to 42 percent. Boozman ran proclaiming his profound religious beliefs, and he called for Clinton to resign. He further said the Bible dictated his anti-tax philosophy and made a serious gaffe when proclaiming that it is rare for women to get pregnant by rape because fear triggers a hormonal change that blocks conception.

This solid win showed that when walking a certain line, Democrats can still win in the state. Lincoln is one of the nine Democrats in the Senate to form a moderate caucus.

At home, Lincoln tells voters that she isn't swayed by one party or another. She voted to refuse oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and opposed Bush's high-profile nomination of Miguel Estrada to the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, as well. However, the local chapters of the National Organization for Women and the Sierra Club have noticed that Lincoln, along with the state's other Democrat Senator, Mark Pryor, has more recently commended other Bush nominees, namely Leon Holmes, a Little Rock attorney.

Holmes typifies the Southern gentleman. He briefly worked at the same law firm as Mr. Pryor, and older writings have surfaced where he was less than sympathetic with rape victims. Liberal groups openly worry what Lincoln and Pryor will do in the instance that Bush makes a nomination for the Supreme Court.

Lincoln voted for the 2001 tax cut, but against the 2003 follow-up. Bush visited Arkansas to apply pressure for her vote. This indicates a ready-made campaign issue for her 2004 election. Depending on Lincoln's actions, she could simultaneously give ammunition to Republicans in the general election, as well as to more liberal Democrats who might challenge her in the primary.

Arkansas's primary is normally held in the March "Super Tuesday" slot. There is no party registration requirement. Since Bush will be on the ballot in 2004 as well, look for a big push by the Republicans to unseat Lincoln.

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