by Max Brantley
Here's that Blanche Lincoln poll. It's a robopoll that shows her in a statistical tie with three -- and nominally trailing two -- virtually unknown Republicans. They are Gilbert Baker, Curtis Coleman and Tom Cotton.
This poll is, in other words, a Lincoln-against-the-world poll. The grass is usually greener in such polls. Back in 1992, polls indicated Bill Clinton couldn't even carry Arkansas for president against the anybody-but option.
Lincoln's favorable rating is low and declining. And 40 percent, or thereabouts, say they'll vote for anybody but her. That's about where even a nutbag Republican typically starts against just about any Democrat in Arkansas. Remember Jim Holt?
Elections, in the end, are about real matchups. Inevitably, beliefs of both candidates are exposed. Is Blanche Lincoln that bad? Is Tom Cotton that good? That's what elections are about.
This illustrates, still, the tough circumstances that Lincoln faces. It's not exactly news. In the end, some 20 percent of the Arkansas electorate will decide the election, as they have before. Will they reject a known quantity for an unknown one?
Polltakers note, moreover, difficulties with Democratic voters. Will they really reject Lincoln for a Religious Right Republican or a throwaway vote on a Green candidate to help elect such a Republican? (Or for a nominal Democrat in the primary if Bob Johnson runs?) That's called cutting off your nose to spite your face. But it's been done before.
(UPDATE: The Arkansas Leader welcomes Bob Johnson as a potential candidate. There's lots more of this where that came from.)
Already, the purists are saying Lincoln must be punished if she stands in the way of acceptable health legislation. Tell me how electing a Republican four-square against EVERY SINGLE OPTION OFFERED BY DEMOCRATS punishes anyone but the entire U.S. population.
The pollsters observed:
So what's the bottom line here? Clearly Lincoln could be beaten, but there are several reasons why she might survive too. The first is that none of her potential Republican opponents have shown the ability yet to raise the money to run a strong campaign. Whoever emerges as her opponent is also going to need to be able to keep their foot out of their mouth, something that's been a problem for some potential foes. The second is that Democrats nationally are in a recession right now and that goes a long way toward explaining these numbers. But if the economy starts turning around by this time next year and the folks in power get the credit, all of their folks running for reelection will get lifted up, including Lincoln. Republicans have an opportunity here but it remains to be seen whether they can take advantage of it.