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It's a bleak election year nationwide, rife with unworthy candidates, some of whom are likely to be chosen by an electorate that is confused, angry and frightened, and egged on to error by media hatemongers. Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron Angle in Nevada, the madwoman in Delaware — only a few years ago, such people could not have won the U.S. Senate nomination of a major political party. Sarah Palin, arguably the leader of her party, went to Arizona to endorse that state's discriminatory anti-immigrant law and declare "We're all Arizonans now." No serious candidate for president in the 1960s would have dared go stand beside George Wallace and announce "We're all Alabamans now."

Arkansas is part of this unfortunate trend. Of the Republican candidates at the top of the state ticket, Jim Keet may be the least offensive — faint praise indeed — if only because he was once a somewhat reasonable member of the state legislature. He's deteriorated fashionably since. Now running for governor, he says he'll sue to stop health-care reform, cut taxes even further for the very rich and the giant corporations, and cede to the Chamber of Commerce even more of the authority that rightfully belongs to popularly elected officials. GOV. MIKE BEEBE is a capable and cautious middle-of-the-roader who's managed state government nicely in his first term. Other than general competence, he's probably best known for cutting the sales tax on groceries, as he promised during his first campaign, but wisely declining to remove the tax entirely until the state can handle the revenue loss. He's well worth keeping.

John Boozman and Tim Griffin have never amounted to much, although Boozman got elected to Congress from a yellow-dog Republican district. He proposes to continue his record of unproductivity if elected to the Senate. Though he tries to keep his views to himself, he's known to favor privatization of Social Security and imposition of a 30 percent sales tax that would devastate the poor and the middle class. SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN has voted for better health care, abortion rights, and aid to children and families. Professed liberals who say she's no better than Boozman are gravely mistaken, at best.

JOYCE ELLIOTT is a proven progressive, like the man she hopes to succeed, U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder. As a state senator, the former schoolteacher has been a great friend of public education, and of the underprivileged. Her opponent, Griffin, worked for Karl Rove, played political dirty tricks in Florida, and conspired to get a reputable U.S. attorney fired so that he could grab the job for himself. Not somebody you'd want to turn your back on, much less send to Congress.

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