Halter’s Loss a Missed Opportunity, Not Crushing Defeat

Halter’s Loss a Missed Opportunity, Not Crushing Defeat

Halter’s Loss a Missed Opportunity, Not Crushing Defeat

Bill Halter’s loss shouldn’t obscure the excellent organizing done by progressives in Arkansas.

Facebook
Twitter
Email
Flipboard
Pocket

Blanche Lincoln’s victory over Bill Halter in last night’s runoff election was not a crushing defeat for the progressive movement, though it certainly hurts. It was more like a missed opportunity.

The progressive groups that endorsed Halter—from labor to environmentalists to netroots activists—accomplished a lot in a short period of time, building an incredible organization from scratch in three months on difficult terrain. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. Knocking off an entrenched incumbent is very, very difficult—the craziness of 2010 has obscured the fact that, before this election cycle, only four incumbent senators had lost their primaries in the past two decades.

Arkansas was always going to be a tough place to pull off an upset of this magnitude. From the beginning of this race, there was a disconnect between the progressive movement’s aspirations and the realities of Arkansas politics. Halter’s natural coalition should’ve been Obama voters who were fed up with Lincoln’s defiance of the president, but there just aren’t that many of those types in Arkansas, and a lot of base Democrats stuck with Lincoln out of residual loyalty or because they just never got to like Halter, who ran a focused, disciplined campaign but was unable to shed the icy and overly ambitious image that surrounds him. In Pulaski County, for example, the home of Little Rock and the largest and most liberal county in the state, Lincoln beat Halter by seventeen points. In contrast, Obama beat McCain there by a dozen points in 2008, even though he lost Arkansas by twenty. During the first election in May, Halter did surprisingly well among conservative Democrats in rural southern Arkansas who showed for their local primaries and voted for him because they didn’t like Blanche. They didn’t show up a second time.

These facts have more to do with the peculiarities of local politics than with a broader failure by the progressive movement, which was rejuvenated and united by this race, even in defeat. Next time they have to organize in a red state like Arkansas, they’ll do better. Learning experiences are frustrating, but they are not worthless.

“Sometimes you can win by losing,” Tom Swan, Ned Lamont’s former campaign manager in Connecticut, told me a few months back. Incumbents usually don’t go down with the first blow; it takes a flurry of sustained punches before they fall. Despite the final outcome, the activist groups supporting Halter’s candidacy sent a message this spring to those Democrats who have most egregiously thwarted Obama’s agenda or repeatedly changed positions on big issues based on political convenience: watch your back. This is a good fight for Democrats to wage—and it won’t be over anytime soon.

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read. It takes a dedicated team to publish timely, deeply researched pieces like this one. For over 150 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and democracy. Today, in a time of media austerity, articles like the one you just read are vital ways to speak truth to power and cover issues that are often overlooked by the mainstream media.

This month, we are calling on those who value us to support our Spring Fundraising Campaign and make the work we do possible. The Nation is not beholden to advertisers or corporate owners—we answer only to you, our readers.

Can you help us reach our $20,000 goal this month? Donate today to ensure we can continue to publish journalism on the most important issues of the day, from climate change and abortion access to the Supreme Court and the peace movement. The Nation can help you make sense of this moment, and much more.

Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Ad Policy
x