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Lincoln re-election race is heating up

DeWitt Era-Enterprise of DeWitt, Arkansas

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Between the Lines: Brenda Blagg

The 2010 race for U.S. Senate in Arkansas,, pitting incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln against several potential foes, is becoming all the more evident in how she and at least one other candidate are doing their jobs.

Lincoln, of course, is the one in the most public of places, the Senate itself, and on one of the most watched committees, Senate Finance, during one of the nation's most prolonged debates, health reform. She can't twitch her nose without drawing someone's attention.

The result is a growing backlog of opposition research being compiled by Republicans and some Democrats that could be used to bri ng her down either in a primary election battle or in next year's general election.

Tuesday's vote on a bill sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and chairman of the Finance Committee, was her latest test. She is part of the panel that has massaged the bill for months and has been under pressure from fellow Democrats to support it. But Lincoln represents Arkansas, where a majority of voters preferred John McCain to Barack Obama for president and where special interests have weighed in heavily with advertising campaigns against health care reform.

The vote came after the deadline for this column, so keep watching to see the fallout. There should have been some, regardless of how Lincoln voted on the bill.

Meanwhile, Lincoln continues to amass a campaign war chest, reported at more than $4.1 million. And that money is in the bank more than a year out from the general election. She is, after all, seeking a third term and only recently was awarded the chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

Despite her fundraising prowess and the fact that she can be a formidable campaigner, Lincoln, as a Democrat, is a natural target for national Republicans hoping to regain Senate control in the mid-term elections. No fewer than seven Republicans are contemplating a challenge to her next year. But her conservative leanings have also triggered consideration of a race by at least one prominent Democrat.

Most of them have made little progress in establishing their candidacies, although polling has suggested that several of them would today get more votes than Lincoln. That's more of a knee-jerk anti-Lincoln measurement than support for any of the others.

But it is significant that state Sen. Gilbert Baker (R-Conway) has said he raised more than $500,000 in the first month since he announced he would seek the seat.

None of the others have said they've raised anything like as much. Baker has to be the "front-runner" among the challengers at this early date and he is obviously acting like a serious candidate.

Take the recent proposal by Baker for a legislative study of gender-based disparities in government employees' pay, something he said he thought was needed after a neighbor who is a state employee and a single parent told him she was making less than male employees in the same position.

The neighbor makes a compelling case for the Legislature to address the problem, but these kinds of disparities have been around for as long as Baker has been in the Legislature — and longer. He, like other members of that body, have had ample opportunity, for example, to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which could correct such inequities for all women, not just those who work in state government. They haven't.

Could it be that Baker, now a candidate against afemale incumbent, is looking for support from women voters?

Much more subtle was Baker's suggestion last week that the mood of lawmakers to do anything more than address the budget in next year's first-ever fiscal session.

Baker, co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, has said there is a widely held view among leadership and rank-and-file members "that we should get in, take care of business, and get out."

That's especially true for any lawmaker, including Baker, contemplating an election campaign next year. The last thi ng any candidate needs is to have controversial legislation fresh on the minds of state voters — as Lincoln will confront regarding health care reform and any number of critical issues now before the Congress.

Brenda Blagg is regional editor ofThe Morning News in northwest Arkansas. Address comments or queries to Brenda Blagg, Between the Lines, 203 N. College, Fay-etteville, AR 72701, or e-mail to

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Original Publication Date: October 15, 2009

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