Columns » Ernest Dumas

Advice for Lincoln

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Sen. Blanche Lincoln needs fresh political advice in the worst way, better advice in fact than she can get here, but there is little chance that she will get it or take it.

If she is going to overcome the lowest poll numbers of an Arkansas senator since they began polling, she will have to do something the next three months that is different from what she has done, which is to tack a little to the left, tack a little to the right, talk about being a farm girl and promise to always put Arkansas first, ahead presumably of Texas. That has got her 32 percent in the polls.

So as part of the Times op-ed's encyclopedic free services, I am prepared to tell her what to do to beat U. S. Rep. John Boozman, or to make it close anyway.

Fairness requires that the same service be rendered to Boozman. Advising a man who is already up by nearly 2 to 1 is easier so let's dispense with the recommended strategy for Boozman first:

Do exactly what you have been doing, which is nearly nothing. Stay in Washington and your house at Rogers, limit appearances in the rest of the state and run lots of slick TV ads about standing up to President Obama and the socialists and blaming Lincoln and Obama for the deficit and the lack of jobs in Arkansas. People across Arkansas don't know much about you or what you've stood for. Keep it that way.

Don't be taken in by Lincoln's ineptitude in debates; avoid even one confrontation with her. You might be worse than she is. The race is yours to lose, so you must avoid stupid blunders, like your brother's when he was running against Lincoln in 1998. He said a girl could not get pregnant by rape or incest owing to "God's little protective shield," an enzyme or something that he had read that a girl's body emitted when she was angry or upset, which prevented fertilization. His message was that any girl who got pregnant didn't mind the sex so she shouldn't be allowed to have an abortion. The lesson for you is that you should not repeat right-wing and tea-party apocrypha like that. You will get their votes anyway.

Also, avoid detailed discussions in any crowd about the deficit because someone will point out that, like Lincoln, you voted for nearly all the measures that produced the trillion-plus deficit last year. And whatever you do, don't brag about being a starting guard for the 1972 Razorbacks. A few soreheads still remember how you let even the scrawny Rice Owls plunder Joe Ferguson and the Hogs' backfield that year, producing a 6-5 season rather than the expected championship. Don't get them stirred up.

For Senator Lincoln, the three paragraphs above should be a pretty good primer for your own strategy, but let's be specific.

You must make the race about John Boozman, not you, which will be hard since you are the incumbent. See if you can force Boozman into some kind of dialogue about how he will vote on the burning issues that affect Arkansans, like Medicare, Social Security, health care, jobs and the deficit. You've made some good stabs at it recently, pointing out how he has voted to turn Medicare over to the insurance companies and prevent the government from negotiating with drug companies for lower prices for drugs under Medicare and Medicaid. He has one of the worst records in Congress on elderly issues.

Hammer him for voting 100 percent of the time for President George W. Bush and the Republican leadership. Get your party's dirty-tricks people to finagle a way to get Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell back in Arkansas to campaign for Boozman, reminding people that the pompous twerp from Kentucky will effectively be the senator from Arkansas if Boozman is elected.

Your numbers are particularly low among the elderly because the Republicans persuaded them that health-reform law was an attack on their Medicare benefits. You need to show them that they need to be afraid of Boozman and McConnell, not you.

That brings us to the nerviest strategy of all, but the only way to win. Run on the health-care law, not away from it. You cannot escape the issue. It is the one vote that is on everyone's mind and it is Boozman's single issue. Use the occasion to educate people on what it actually does.

What parts of the law specifically would Boozman get rid of? Would he once again let insurance companies stop coverage of sick children, people with pre-existing conditions and the chronically ill? Will he once again put diagnostic testing and preventive care off limits? Will he restore the high cost of medicine for the elderly who fall into the Medicare coverage gap? Would he stop the billions of dollars coming into Arkansas to insure needy working families?

Yes, like Republicans everywhere now, Boozman will say that he would repeal the requirement that able-bodied and reasonably well off people purchase health insurance, the one part of the law that was borrowed from the Republicans. (That was the centerpiece of the Republican health reform plan from the '70s through the '90s and is the heart of Mitt Romney's Massachusetts insurance law.) So would he continue to require people who do have health insurance to pay for the uncompensated hospital and doctor care of people who are uninsured and won't pay?

That will require that you get a full grasp of the law and be able to explain it in ways that everyone can understand. Take a page from Bill Clinton's book. It's what he would do, and he would win.

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