Columns » Max Brantley

The third-party threat

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Democratic U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln faces an uphill re-election fight against Republican challenger John Boozman, but it's made tougher still by the presence of Green Party candidate John Gray.

If you believe the polls, Boozman's lead over Lincoln is so substantial that a marginal vote for the Green Party won't matter.

I still believe the margin will narrow, however. Boozman, unexciting personally, is a doctrinaire Republican. In today's political climate, that means he votes against just about everything — health care for the poor, benefits for the unemployed, measures to protect our air and water, government support for a wide variety of job-stimulating projects.

Lincoln's voting record is a mixed bag, but it's certainly friendly to Arkansas's agricultural community. She's friendlier to women's rights than Boozman, despite some latter-day waffling on abortion rights. Generally speaking, her voting record is more progressive than, say, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor. She's a moderate. Boozman is not.

Lincoln will defeat Boozman soundly in major urban areas. Whatever their dissatisfaction with Lincoln — and there's plenty — black voters aren't likely to see Boozman as a suitable alternative. Name the issue important to minority voters and he's on the wrong side.

So let us be optimistic and believe the race between Lincoln and Boozman will be close. The balance of power, as ever, will be with moderate voters. The winner will build a coalition of moderates and voters from either end of the spectrum. That's where the Green Party could be devastating to Lincoln. It could cut into votes from the progressive end of the scale, voters who aren't likely to support Boozman.

A Green Party candidate took more than 20 percent of the vote against Mark Pryor in 2008, but he had no Republican opponent. Their statewide candidates have frequently posted double-digit totals. Some of this vote is motivated by idealism and Green Party principles. More of it, I think, is a None of the Above vote, an expression of dissatisfaction with the two ruling parties.

I understand the sentiment. I just happen to think it is suicidal politically. The case in point is the 2000 presidential election. Yes, a full recount would have given Al Gore Florida and the election had not the U.S. Supreme Court truncated the recount process. But take Ralph Nader's votes out of the equation and Gore would have won Florida and the presidency without controversy. The ensuing eight years were a heckuva price to pay for Green voters' principles.

A similar attitude is much in evidence in ongoing discussions on the Arkansas Blog. Many liberals there are simply too disgusted with Blanche Lincoln (think labor, environment and estate tax issues) to vote for her. I feel their pain. But I part company when they think that election of a truly poisonous alternative like Boozman will somehow "wake up" the electorate for wiser decisions in the future.

If the Green Party candidate gets 10 percent of the vote, John Boozman will laugh his way into the U.S. Senate and he'll be hard to dislodge. Those votes of principle will be cold comfort when John Boozman votes against Green Party voters on every single issue.

Maybe the thing to do is hope that a fourth Senate candidate, Tea Party follower Trevor Drown who is running as an independent, will catch fire and siphon votes from Boozman on the right. An election decided by the middle could go to Lincoln. I'm afraid, however, that the right is more disciplined than the left.

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