WASHINGTON-Former President Bill Clinton dubbed Sen. Blanche Lincoln "The Comeback Kid" last night, following her win in the Arkansas Democratic primary-which everyone had expected her to lose.
Lincoln beat back Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and won by 4 percentage points, while pre-election polls showed her either tied or behind Halter. Conventional wisdom said the national bad mood would send Lincoln the way of two other sitting senators who were ousted in primaries: Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Robert Bennett, R-Utah.
Clinton, a former governor of Arkansas, campaigned heavily for Lincoln. President Obama endorsed her but didn't appear in person to campaign for her-perhaps to avoid tying himself to another electoral defeat. The president had campaigned in person for Specter, Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Creigh Deeds in Virginia, and Jon Corzine in New Jersey, all of whom lost high-profile races.
Labor unions, usually close with the Democratic establishment, dumped $10 million into the race to support Halter over Obama's chosen candidate. The unions-the AFL-CIO, SEIU, and AFSCME-were mainly disgruntled with Lincoln's opposition to a public option in healthcare reform and to card check legislation, which would make it easier for unions to organize in workplaces.
For now Lincoln is still likely to lose the general election, where she will face off with Rep. John Boozman. She has trailed the Republican in polls, but her surprise performance in the primaries has boosted her campaign.
The defeat of a union-backed candidate is certainly a boon to neoliberal blogger Mickey Kaus, an outspoken critic of labor who lost steeply in the California Democratic primary to Sen. Barbara Boxer. Kaus, who ran a protest campaign in which he never expected to succeed, took a mere 5 percent of the vote.
Primaries took place in a dozen states Tuesday, with mostly female winners in tightly contested races. In South Carolina, state Rep. Nikki Haley will face Rep. Gresham Barrett in a June 22 runoff for the Republican nomination for governor. In California, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman won the Republican nomination for governor and former Hewlett-Packard head Carly Fiorina won the Republican nomination to battle Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. In Nevada, Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle bested two initial frontrunners-Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian-to become the Republican candidate who will challenge Sen. Harry Reid. Several Tea Party-backed candidates also won primaries in Maine, Georgia, and New Jersey.