Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Welcome to the first installment of The Arkansas Election Line, a collaboration between Talk Business, The Tolbert Report and Blake’s Think Tank.

On Monday, Jason Tolbert, Blake Rutherford and I examined the U.S. Senate race, in which 3 Democrats and 8 Republicans are vying for the seat currently held by Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
  • Our consensus rating is that the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas “Leans Republican” today.
  • In the Republican Senate primary, our view is that the nomination “Leans John Boozman.”
  • On the Democratic side, we rate the primary race as “Leans Blanche Lincoln.”
All of these assessments are where we collectively view the race today. Each of us will offer our own independent analysis of these ratings and from time-to-time you’ll see us dissent with the consensus view.

I have been tracking this race through our Talk Business Quarterly Poll for more than nine months. The political atmosphere in Arkansas has been volatile for incumbents and Sen. Blanche Lincoln has been particularly vulnerable in large part due to her pivotal role in the grinding health care debate.

Lincoln’s job approval has consistently trended below 50% for months. As I’ve noted in our most recent poll, independent voters are breaking closely to where baseline Republican voter attitudes stand. This is a big part of the recipe for a GOP takeaway in November if conditions hold.

Our consensus is that Cong. John Boozman is the primary frontrunner to win the Republican nomination. He brings the most name ID to the race, a proven fundraising record, and has a near-decade of ballot appearances on his resume in the 3rd District, where nearly 50% of the GOP primary turnout will unfold.

State Sen. Gilbert Baker will give Boozman a strong challenge for the nomination based on his money raised (more than $700,000). However, the demographics of the 3rd District – in particular an expected large turnout for Boozman’s opening House seat – will skew the results for that region of the state.

On the Democratic side, incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln still has advantages over Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, but they are advantages that Halter could erase. Currently, Lincoln has more money, a deeper campaign organization, and more widespread name ID than Halter among Democratic primary voters. However, Halter’s lack of universal name recognition is allowing him to define himself to primary voters (which we’re seeing in his TV ads).

Lincoln has a tougher juggling act of re-defining herself to voters who have hardened in their description of her job performance. She is attempting to separate herself from the Washington, D.C. establishment, a tricky juggling act for a two-term incumbent and former member of Congress. Political analyst John Brummett and I discussed the Senate race in this interview on Friday.

Also, Lincoln has yet to counter any of Halter’s positive messaging. Conversely, union groups started running negative ads toward Lincoln late last week and we’ll watch to see how all of this media mix may change the dynamic of the Democratic primary.

Your thoughts are welcome. Feel free to share with me privately at roby@talkbusiness.net.

Jason Tolbert at The Tolbert Report – U.S. Senate race
Blake Rutherford of Blake’s Think Tank – U.S. Senate race