Former President Bill Clinton embraced Sen. Blanche Lincoln figuratively and literally at a campaign event for her today at Philander Smith College. (Her release on jump.)
It ended on a sour note, for the press anyway. The Lincoln campaign prevented reporters and photographers from closing in on Clinton after the event. The campaign claimed Secret Service guideliness. Reporters wondered why they'd be viewed as more dangerous than the spectators pressing in on Clinton with flashing cameras. Reporters, of course, were primed to question Clinton about the Republican-invented non-story of the day, Clinton's effort to talk Joe Sestak out his successful primary run against Arlen Specter. His sweet talk failed. Sestak won. Lincoln undoubtedly will hope for more power from Clinton words in Arkansas.
(For those who don't get it: Yes President Obama promised to support Specter if he switched parties. Yes, as part of keeping that commitment, the White House enlisted Clinton to talk Sestak out of running. Sestak made the overture known because it demonstrated his independence. He won. Leading politicians including St. Ronnie have tried to clear primary fields for favorite candidates since forever. It's not a scandal. It's a familiar political story that Republicans are trying to inflate into Whitewater, speaking of non-stories hyped by the GOP and Beltway press.)
More from Gerard Matthews on the jump.
President Clinton made a strong and passionate case for re-electing Sen. Blanche Lincoln today at Philander Smith College. The tone of the former president's remarks was mostly positive, praising Lincoln's record on child nutrition, her vote for the health care reform bill and her chairmanship of the Senate Ag Committee.
Clinton never mentioned Lt. Gov. Bill Halter by name, but instead referred over and over again to Sen. Lincoln's "opponents." (Halter worked for the Clinton White House.) In that classic Clinton way, his message was directed toward the audience, not necessarily Lincoln or Halter. Clinton told the crowd that, months ago, national groups had decided to make Lincoln the "poster child" for what happens when Democrats cross them. "In other words, this is about manipulating you and your votes to terrify members of Congress and members of the Senate," Clinton said. "This is not about being a poster child. This is about your child, your grandchildren, your future."
After Clinton spoke, Lincoln took the stage to defend her record on card-check legislation, which she once supported but now opposes, and tout her work for child nutrition and Arkansas farmers. Although she did mention Halter once, her message centered on her roots as an Arkansan and stayed away from directly attacking her opponent.
At the end of the event, the crowd began to approach the stage to get a glimpse of the former president, snapping pictures and taking Flip videos. The press was told by Lincoln's campaign people that we were to stay in the designated media area in the back of the gym. When asked why members of the general public could approach the front to snap pictures and the press could not, a spokesman for Lincoln said they were told by the Secret Service to keep the press in their designated area.
At that, several reporters began to approach the front and were told by Lincoln's campaign to move back. At one point a Lincoln staffer or volunteer told reporters they needed to leave and exit through the back entrance. This did not go over so well. Several reporters expressed displeasure and in an effort to calm the situation, Lincoln's communication director Katie Laning Niebaum told reporters there would be a media availability with Sen. Lincoln after all, but some reporters, including this one, left.
UPDATE: Jason Tolbert, who attempted to ask Clinton about the Sestak matter, reports that Sen. Lincoln later said her campaign staff was asked by the Secret Service to keep the press back in order to "preserve the safety of the rope line" - whatever that means.
-- Gerard Matthews
LINCOLN NEWS RELEASE
Little Rock - Saying she is part of the solution to Washington gridlock, U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln today launched her "Countdown to Victory" tour with President Bill Clinton at a kickoff rally at Philander Smith College.
"I'm extremely grateful for President Clinton's support in this campaign, and I look forward to highlighting my record standing up for Arkansas across the state on my 'Countdown to Victory' tour," Sen. Lincoln said. "Arkansans sent me to the U.S. Senate to fight for them and stand up to the special interests, and that's what I am doing."
"Blanche has been a leader for Arkansas, fighting the special interests on behalf of Arkansans," President Clinton said. "She has taken on the Wall Street banks by writing the toughest of any reform proposal that will help Main Street businesses here in Arkansas. As the first Arkansan to serve as Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, she has stood up for Arkansas's farmers, ranchers, rural communities and school children. Arkansas cannot afford to lose her and what she means for this state."
Lincoln noted that D.C. unions have spent nearly $10 million attacking her because she does not agree with them all of the time.
"My parents raised me to stand for what I believe, not to run from a fight and, most importantly, to listen to all sides," Sen. Lincoln said. "Our state is worth fighting for. Arkansans said no to the D.C. unions on May 18, and they will once again refuse to let these outside groups buy this election. Arkansans know that I answer only to them."
Sen. Lincoln announced that her Countdown to Victory tour would roll out from Little Rock Tuesday with stops in Pine Bluff, Star City, Monticello, Warren and Lake Village. Additional details to be announced at a later date.