Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln was never supposed to be vulnerable to a challenge from the left. Conventional wisdom told us that as an incumbent from a conservative state (Barack Obama took just 39 percent of the vote in Arkansas in 2008) she was vulnerable only from the right. It told us that in a state dominated by Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart, forty-ninth out of fifty in union density, corporate dollars would drown out working people's voices.
But on Primary Day, Lincoln pulled out a narrow win over Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter in an election that was fought on issues of jobs, healthcare and basic environmental regulations.
This election transcended traditional left-right politics, marking an uprising against corporate control of government. Yes, it was an incomplete uprising, to be sure, but look at it this way: a lieutenant governor unpopular with his state's political establishment and supported by unions, environmental groups and the netroots came within a few points of defeating a powerful incumbent senator supported by two presidents (one of them a former governor of the state) and the US Chamber of Commerce.
Arkansas voters have had the opportunity to see up close the effects of a government controlled by corporate interests. Blanche Lincoln has served her state's major corporations well. She is often called the "senator from Wal-Mart," and according to the Des Moines Register, "Lincoln is as vigorous a proponent for large farms and livestock interests (think Arkansas-based Tyson Foods) as there is in Congress."
As chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Lincoln has been in a position to champion Tyson and other agribusiness interests, often at the expense of family farms. Meanwhile, her staff have swung through the revolving door between Capitol Hill and corporate lobbying, with a former chief of staff going to Wal-Mart to lobby against the Employee Free Choice Act. Lincoln has been handsomely rewarded, with both Tyson and Wal-Mart ranking among her top campaign contributors. But the people of Arkansas are not doing well. The state ranks second in people living below the poverty level, fifth in infant mortality, and forty-ninth in percentage of adults holding bachelor's degrees.
Over the past year and a half, Arkansans have seen Lincoln turn her back on measures that would have improved their lives to support corporate interests instead. Twenty-five thousand Working America members and their neighbors sent handwritten letters to Lincoln over the last year imploring her to support job rights and real health care reform. But Lincoln was deaf to those pleas, repeatedly standing with Republicans to block needed legislation.
When Lincoln disappointed our members, we went back to their neighborhoods to talk about the election.