08 June 2010

The Arkansas primary runoff

In general it's wise for political parties to stay as close to the center as they can while working for their key goals; a party that leaves the center to go too far in catering to its "base" is likely to lose general elections, as the conservatives discovered in NY-23 and are likely to discover in the Florida Senate race this year (and perhaps in other places, as several Republican moderates are being challenged in primaries by more teabaggish figures).

So what about Arkansas? Are we taking the same risk? Unions and progressive groups are backing challenger Bill Halter against conservative Democratic incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln in today's primary runoff. Arkansas is not a particularly liberal state. If Halter is the nominee, do we increase the risk of losing that Senate seat to a Republican?

It's possible. The November general election is still almost five months away and any firm prediction would be unwise, but it's possible. But there are a couple of important points to remember here.

(1) Lincoln helped remove the public option from the health-care reform bill. This was a betrayal of a basic part of the reform. Parties don't exist just to win elections -- they need to stand for something, even if political reality sometimes forces unpalatable but pragmatic compromises. If any betrayal qualifies as grounds for making an example of a politician -- even at the price of a greater risk of losing the seat -- this surely does.

(2) Remember that the public option polled as much more popular with the American people than the rest of the reform bill did. Republicans like to point out that the final reform bill does not have majority support, but much of its unpopularity stems from the fact that its most popular feature, which did have majority support, was removed from it. The public option was not some radical leftist idea which couldn't have been sold to the political center. The majority of Americans wanted it.

The MSM, eager as ever for a simple angle on a story, has been pushing the line that this primary season is dominated by anti-incumbent sentiment. I'm skeptical; the drive to get rid of Lincoln, for example, has everything to do with the loss of the public option and nothing to do with her being an incumbent. But if incumbents are out of favor -- and I don't think anyone could argue that being an incumbent is an advantage at the moment -- we may be better off nominating a fresh face in Arkansas.


Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

Right now Lincoln is ahead. Politico is covering the race results minute by minute.

08 June, 2010 18:30  

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