The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which almost never supports Democrats, has endorsed Sen. Blanche Lincoln for re-election. So has the Arkansas branch of the Chamber’s arch-enemy, the AFL-CIO. So too have the Arkansas Education Association, the Farm Bureau and other powerful interest groups from all points on the political spectrum.
State Sen. Jim Holt of Springdale, Lincoln’s Republican challenger, has been unable to win the endorsement of any group. He displays instead "testimonials" from individuals such as Fay Boozman, director of the state Health Department, who, like Holt, has roots in the Religious Right community of Northwest Arkansas. "Jim Holt is a man of deep faith," according to Boozman, who lost to Lincoln in 1998.
Holt has raised about $97,000 for his campaign treasury. Lincoln has raised $6.1 million for hers. She is all over the airwaves in television commercials, and all over the state in personal appearances. Even newspaper reporters have trouble finding Holt, whose campaign headquarters advises that all relevant information is available through the candidate’s web site. Except for a few yard signs, mostly in the northwest quadrant, Holt’s campaign is almost invisible.
(Those signs include a simple drawing of a fish, an old Christian symbol. Lincoln’s signs don’t have the fish, but her office confirms that she’s a Christian too.)
In short, the Senate race seems a decided mismatch, such that people wonder why the Republicans couldn’t field a stronger candidate for a U.S. Senate seat, especially when the two parties are fighting fiercely for control of that body. Part of the answer is Lincoln herself. When she was first elected to the Senate six years ago, some Democrats, sick over the retirement of Dale Bumpers, thought she was in over her head. Not so. She’s no Bumpers, but she’s smarter than the skeptics thought, even somewhat wonkish in her command of the details of issues before the Congress. She’s politically shrewd, too, capable of being many things to many people. One of the most conservative Democratic senators — the only Democratic member of the Arkansas congressional delegation to vote for President Bush’s Medicare bill, for example — she placates liberals by helping block Bush’s ultra-conservative judicial nominees. She’s proved a formidable fund-raiser.
A couple of years ago, political buffs speculated that Gov. Mike Huckabee would challenge Lincoln this year, the middle of his four-year gubernatorial term, even though Huckabee himself swore that he’d serve for the duration. Since then, Huckabee’s popularity has dropped, largely because of his support for school-consolidation legislation, and the conventional wisdom now — among Democrats, anyway — is that he’s through winning elective office. Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller has money and name recognition, but he seems intent on succeeding Huckabee as governor, the office that his father once held. U.S. Rep. John Boozman of Rogers, the only Republican in the Arkansas congre-ssional delegation, would be taking a huge risk to give up an apparently safe seat in the Third District, one held by the Republicans for 35 years, to challenge a strong Democrat in a statewide race. John Boozman, Fay’s brother, is linked to the Religious Right also. That link is not nearly such an asset outside the Third District.
If Holt loses, as expected, he’ll serve the remaining two years of his term in the state Senate, where he’s known for his anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-private-school positions. And for opposing a pay raise for senators, which did not endear him to his colleagues.