by Max Brantley
Bill Halter won in classic debate terms in today's final senatorial debate at the Statehouse Convention Center He scored point after point with specific attacks on Sen. Blanche Lincoln's voting record, her negative ad campaign and her advocacy for an estate tax cut for families worth more than $10 million at a time when the middle class is hurting.
Lincoln's campaign distributed a news release immediately after conclusion saying she'd won, in part for standing up to the labor bosses. Some bosses. Dozens of working men and women waved signs and wore stickers for Halter outside the hall. It took a hurryup call for the Lincoln campaign to muster a few counter-demonstrators.
Halter: Change vs. more of the same.
Lincoln: I'll fight for Arkansas.
D.C. Morrison: Less government, lower taxes. (Except he gave a simple and rousing defense of the estate tax, too.)
BELATED PS: Lincoln was sharpest in defense of her legislation to regulate derivatives. She explained a hard subject clearly and earnestly. If it's a cynical political ploy, it hasn't helped her much. It just might be that she was sincerely motivated.
More on the jump from Gerard Matthews.
Both Halter and Lincoln acted as if D.C. Morrison wasn't even there. The candidates addressed each other personally and often, trading licks on the estate tax, as mentioned above, their respective records on social security and who really represented the best interests of Arkansans.
The biggest political jab of the day award has to go to Halter. Host Steve Barnes asked the candidates, "Who does the Chamber of Commerce represent? And who does organized labor represent?" Lincoln gave a lengthy answer about each, but ended by saying that both organizations represent workers. Halter fired a shot across Lincoln's bow, replying to Barnes' question with this response: "The real question is who on this stage represents the Chamber of Commerce?" The crowd couldn't hold back the "oohs," having been directed by organizers to reserve all reactions and applause until the end.
At the end of the debate, another reporter joked that D.C. Morrison was probably the real winner. Morrison kept the crowd happy with a slew of one-liners. A few of the more liberal attendants probably thought it was funny when Morrison said, seriously, that the health care reform packaged passed by Congress should not stand and that he supports the fair tax. Halter and Lincoln traded blows, but neither covered new ground or said anything that they haven't been saying for weeks.
For a 140 character-limited discussion of what went on at the event, check out the hashtag #ARSenDebate on Twitter. You'll find tweets from yours truly, AP's Andrew Demillo, Blake Rutherford, KARK's Cecillea Mayo and more. For a little comic relief, check out Dwight David Honeycutt's take on the event. The would be school-board member announced he was "live-tweeting the event despite not being in attendance."