And the winner is… Bill Clinton.
Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln always had a base in the state she has served for decades as a member of the House and the Senate, and it was among the sort of voters who cast their ballots in Democratic primaries.
But she disappointed enough of that base, with centrist compromises aimed more at positioning herself for the November, 2010, election in a state that backed Republican John McCain for the presidency in 2008, to get in primary-season trouble. And the most ambitious man in Arkansas politics, Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, saw an opening, gathered together a lot of support from organized labor and the lefty internet activists, and mounted a very savvy, very effective challenge.
Halter essentially tied Lincoln in the May primary. But if you are a challenger, you don’t wound a political-connected opponent in the first round of primary voting and expect to win the second round.
Lincoln knew she was in trouble. And she pulled out the big gun.
No one who watched the last two weeks of the campaign in Arkansas doubted that the energy was with Lincoln. And that energy was personified by former President Bill Clinton, the most popular figure in Arkansas politics – not just Arkansas Democratic politics but Arkansas politics.
Lincoln just stepped aside and let Clinton do his thing. (In fact, she stepped so far aside that her team had to use a wide-angle lens just to keep her in the picture when he was speaking on her behalf at a big rally in Little Rock
The former president may live in New York. But he hit the ground in Arkansas talking “we” this and “we” that. Dismissing the negative campaigning by out-of-state groups against Lincoln, he shouted: “Folks, this feels like a Washington campaign. This is the kind of games people used to play in Washington when I was there. This is not us. This is not what we do.”
It was as if he was running one more time for governor, and Arkansans loved it. They packed rallies, they held on Clinton’s words. And they cheered as they have not cheered a Democrat since, well, Bill Clinton.
Once he had their attention, Clinton took apart Halter’s out-of-state backers with a devastating line.