With almost all the votes counted in a closely watch Arkansas run-off election, Senator Blanche Lincoln held a solid if not overwhelming 52-48 lead over Democratic challenger Bill Halter.
Lincoln's apparent win will be read as a victory for the party establishment, as personified by President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, both of whom urged voters to re-elect a Democratic incumbent who labor unions and netroots activists accused of siding too frequently with Republicans.
Halter had the unions and groups such as MoveOn.org on his side, even though some Arkansas progressives quietly noted that the ambitious lieutenant governor was not necessarily as liberal as some of his out-of-state backers imagined.
With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, the incumbent was only ahead by about 10,000 votes. But that was more than enough of a margin in a low-turnout election for Lincoln, who lead from the start of the night, to claim the nomination.
Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine moved quickly to try and heal divisions in a state where Lincoln still faces a tough fall contest with Republican Congressman John Boozman.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine released the following statement after Senator Blanche Lincoln's win in the Arkansas Democratic Senate primary tonight:
“Senator Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Halter both campaigned aggressively across the state and Arkansans were faced with a difficult choice. After a close race, Democratic Primary voters have chosen Sen. Lincoln to represent the Democratic Party in the race against Rep. John Boozman in the fall," said Kaine. “With the primary behind them, Arkansans now have a clear choice in November: elect Sen. Lincoln, who has fought and will continue to fight tirelessly for Arkansas families, or elect a longtime special interest advocate like John Boozman. Rep. Boozman has a lengthy record in Congress of standing up for risky Wall Street practices, insurance companies and big oil companies. For years he has advocated for the failed economic policies of the past, and he puts seniors at risk by advocating the repeal of Social Security. That’s why come November, Arkansans will re-elect Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a strong independent voice who fights for what she believes in and will work for policies that will help move Arkansas and all of America forward.”
But union representatives were not cutting Lincoln much slack Tuesday night.
“Today’s election was about what working people expect in a leader. We heard from thousands of people across Arkansas that they wanted to elect someone who would listen and fight for them,” said Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of the AFL-CIO's Working America community organizing affiliate. “While that didn’t happen tonight, Sen. Lincoln certainly heard the voices of thousands of Arkansans tonight—they won’t stand for her corporate agenda any longer.”
If Democratic insiders were holding their own in one Southern state, the Republican establishment was experiencing some Tea Party trouble in other Southern states.
In South Carolina, maverick Republican Congressman Bob Inglis, who has broken with the party on issues such as warrantless wiretapping and climate change, was forced into a runoff by a steadier conservative, Trey Gowdy. Inglis is in serious troublem; Gowdy beat him 43-27 Tuesday and goes into the June 22 GOP runoff as the presumed frontrunner.
In the race for the South Carolina Republican gubernatorial nod, another Tea Party favorite, state legislator Nikki Haley, was the clear leader. But Haley, who was backed by Sarah Palin, faced ugly attacks on her ethnicity (a fellow legislator called her a "raghead," in refernce to her Indian background) and charges that she had affairs while married, will face a run-off with another conservative legislator, Gresham Barrett.
And in a runoff for an open Georgia US House seat, the candidate generally favored by Tea Party activists, Tom Graves, easily beat fellow conservative Lee Hawkins, who veered ever so slightly more toward the mainstream. Graves was the favorite of the Club for Growth and Georgia's Tea Partisans.