Organizers of the Association of Arkansas Counties convention went out of their way to keep from calling today's "forum" a debate. Sen. Blanche Lincoln and her challenger for the US Senate seat Rep. John Boozman took predetermined questions from county officials in the audience and, for the most part, pulled their political punches, remaining very cordial throughout. Insofar as any political salvos were launched, both candidates used their opening statements to criticize the other's position on Social Security and earmarks.
Aside from one question regarding the health care bill passed by Congress earlier this year, most of the questions focused on wonky, county-related, hyper-local issues, including emergency management funding, highways and collective bargaining for first responders and other municipal employees. Talking points abounded, with Boozman stating the tired old Republican lines about the evils of federal mandates (however, at one point Boozman said the federal government needed to help counties fund their voting operations) and Lincoln falling back on her campaign message of putting Arkansans before partisan politics. Winners? Losers? It's hard to say. Lincoln definitely has a way of relating to local officials and relied heavily on her record to let the audience know she'd be the best choice in November. While Boozman's responses were measured and on message, his lack of personality might leave some voters, especially those in search of a vibrant candidate, wanting.