For Democrats, the election season comes down to this: Assuming that a Democrat has any chance to beat the old Republican left tackle for the Razorbacks for the U.S. Senate, is it more likely to be Sen. Blanche Lincoln or Lt. Gov. Bill Halter?
Forget Senator Lincoln's Agriculture chairmanship and her lovely personality and Halter's wretched lottery and his off-putting ambition. Halter is a Democrat's only chance, and in this cheerless year it is not a great one.
Lincoln's approval ratings are the lowest of a major Arkansas officeholder in memory although the decline was driven partly by some of the unfairest paid media anyone has seen during the health-care wars in 2009. You have to ask yourself, how would she counter that in a matchup with John Boozman, a congressional colleague with whom she has often worked in concert and with whom she was usually in step on the big issues during the eight years of George W. Bush and Republican congressional control?
They voted alike on Bush's wars, the deficit-inducing Medicare expansion fathered by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, the bailout of the financial industry and most of the Bush tax cuts for the rich and corporations. The big difference was that Lincoln eventually realized that the Bush tax cuts and spending were plunging the country into massive deficits and she stopped voting for them. Boozman kept on. If a Republican proposed them he followed, right over the cliff.
But you can't make an issue of voting against a tax cut, any tax cut, no matter how sensible the vote was. At least, Blanche Lincoln can't. Senator Dale Bumpers, her predecessor, did it quite effectively. Bumpers was one of the few senators in 1981 who voted against the big Ronald Reagan tax cuts that began the spiral of 12-digit deficits, and he came home to talk proudly about it. When the country fell into the deepest recession since the 1930s and deficits soared, he looked like a sage.
Halter doesn't strike you as being as cheeky as Bumpers either but at least he could talk about Boozman's contributions to the gargantuan debt and the economic collapse with no trace of hypocrisy. He never had to vote on the stuff. He could and almost certainly would contrast Boozman's contributions to the deficits and his own (vastly overdramatized) role in producing an end to budget deficits and creating the first back-to-back surpluses in modern times. He was a functionary in Bill Clinton's Office of Management and Budget in the critical years when the government reversed the deficit slide.
Lincoln's best stratagem might be to blame Boozman for the collapse of the Razorbacks in 1972 when he was supposed to be keeping Texas linemen and linebackers off Joe Ferguson, the great quarterback whom Frank Broyles benched at the end of a 6-5 season because his passing attack had become ineffectual. But unless Ferguson joined her, what chance would she have with that issue? Third District voters, who remembered it best, thought enough of his gridiron service in 2001 to elect him to Congress.
Yes, she did beat his brother Fay in her first election to the Senate in 1998 and might hope for the same matchup. Both Boozmen were prone to gaffes but can she hope for a godsend like Fay's famous “God's protective little shield”?
Dr. Boozman, an ophthalmologist who was the Republican Senate nominee, proclaimed that women who were raped were not apt to get pregnant because a woman's body emitted protective hormones when she was having unwanted sex and they prevented her from conceiving. That was his justification for opposing abortion for women who said they had been raped.
Despite his slight daffiness Fay remained beloved in Northwest Arkansas until his death in 2005, when his barn gate fell on him, but “God's little shield” turned the tide for Lincoln in 1998.
John Boozman is an optometrist, not a physician, and doesn't claim any real or bogus medical expertise.
Is he beatable at all? The Republican-leaning Rasmussen polls say no. Congress.org's power ratings of the 435 members of Congress rank Boozman 386th.
In poor Arkansas, “Hey, we're 386th!” is a pretty good battle cry.
Halter doesn't have a voting record, all his public service having been in the executive branch. Despite the bombardment of business commercials attacking him for being a union softie and a minion of eastern liberals, he is still largely a blank slate upon which he, Boozman and their surrogates can write a definition. The big surge of voters in November who will choose between the Democratic and Republican voters' choices will not be particularly driven by ideology or at least poorly informed. That gives Halter as good a chance as Boozman. He, not Halter, would have to defend bank bailouts, corporate coddling, deficits and wars.
And what if the old blocker foolishly agreed to a series of televised debates with Halter, the nifty halfback-cum Rhodes scholar? Crazier things have happened.