Labor's Victory in Arkansas

Last night was a pretty good night for organized labor. Their candidate (in the AR-SEN primary) didn’t win, but they turned a blowout into a toss-up and pushed a moderate Senator to the left on at least one major issue. Taking on Democratic incumbents like this is largely unchartered territory for labor, and I’m not naive enough to believe that if you only almost win on a first run, then you’re finished with a stake through your heart. Unfortunately, much of the media is that naïve.

Politico’s Martin Kady says that Senator Lincoln “drove a stake through organized labor last night with her surprise victory over surging Lt. Gov. Bill Halter… Lincoln's victory means that at least for the time being, other moderates in the Senate can breathe easy and keep playing the middle on big ticket legislative items.” A CBS headline asks, "Did labor waste $10 million in Arkansas?" Even First Read says, “Simply put, Lincoln's narrow victory was a crushing blow to organized labor and the internet left, which had rallied around Halter.”

Excuse me, but Lincoln went from 18 points up to 4 points up, from a lock to a dead heat. What if she had started 14 points up? What if the next moderate starts just 10 points up? Organized labor showed they can make up those differences. Since when does that count as “breathing easy?” I’d call that a new and huge headache for Blue Dogs.  

Furthermore, labor started at a severe disadvantage – at just 4.2%, Arkansas has the second-lowest union membership in the country. All of the moderates Politico says can breathe easy are in states with higher union membership than that. Ben Nelson’s Nebraska – 9.2%. Bill Nelson’s Florida – 5.8%. What if labor chose to get involved in primaries in states like Alaska, with 22.3% membership, or Washington, at 20.2%?

A blow-out race in a state unfriendly to unions, and yet labor’s money came very, very close to toppling Lincoln. She was running scared, so stepped it up on derivatives and Wall Street reform – a pretty sweet worst-case scenario for progressives.

Here’s some spot-on analysis from Greg Sargent:

This is precisely the point that eludes those who are looking at this through a simlistic "who won, who lost" prism. For labor, not doing anything was tantamount to losing. Blanche Lincoln is terrible on issues important to labor. As long as she remains in the Senate, unions lose.

Yes, labor dumped $10 million on the effort. But they, you know, almost won. If anything, the closeness of the contest -- recall that Halter forced Lincoln into a runoff three weeks ago -- underscored that labor was right to undertake this effort. And putting aside that $10 million, unions are in some ways in a better position than they were before: It's a simple fact that other Dems will think longer and harder before crossing labor on issues that are dealbreakers for them.

If labor had never entered this race at all, they'd still be in a losing position with Lincoln in the Senate. This is an unbearably simple and obvious point, but the only way for labor to reverse this situation was to try to replace her with someone better on their issues. They couldn't do this, of course, without running the risk of losing. Doing nothing would have amounted to a loss, anyway -- with no chance of ever winning. They were absolutely right to give it a shot. The alternative was much worse.

Tags: 2010 midterms, Blanche Lincoln, Bill Halter, Politico, AR-Sen, Unions, Labor (all tags)



The real character of victory

The character of last nights contest - is where one can quietly mark one down for the good guys.


Yes, the blogosphere jumped in when Halter was 20 points back. Yes, Halter jumped into a dead heat. Yes, he forced a run-off contest between himself and the long time senator.


And it can be said that many senators who have acquired alot of committee appointments, contacts - and basically wired the 'old boy network' up in the senate are far more valuable to a state than any junior senator - And far more easily re-elected. If they play their cards right, and keep the right people happy - their campaign checks come , the people move into their camp and election night is just another happy party.


But Blanche Lincoln was sweating bullets. For the first time since she can remember. And then , almost losing - she had to make a comeback in a run off election. The cruise to victory she expected just wasn't there.


In my view, this election and the character of its victory for the good guys comes in its ability to define the national dialogue about incumbency.


Blanche Lincoln wasn't targetted because she was an incumbent. There isn't a general rage settling in on everyone in DC - she was fighting for her life because she opposed policies that were broadly popular with the citizens of her state, and the united states. She was opposed to a National Health Service (NHS) - desperately trying to call it a 'public option'.  72% of her own citizens supported it and wanted it - when an alternative to this kind of representation appeared,  Arkansas jumped at it.


She used tricks to keep herself in power - but the best trick of all was when she decided to jump on board with real reforms for Wall Street. The same character of reform that actual Healthcare Reform would have accomplished had she not opposed it.


In the end, the effect of this race is still largely unfelt. Naturally the lobbyists in power will scramble to try to show how strong they were in keeping the TV commercials running.


But with another primary senate race in the south cruising to victory without a single TV ad, and the state of Colombia down in Latin America being forced into yet another run off because someone used the net to run a Green Party revolution - again without any GOTV operation, really - in place at all....


The truth is that the Lincoln/Halter contest has shown the game has changed. People are paying attention. Support the policies they want to see and they will re-elect you. Real reform is where its at.

Real reform is where it will stay. The old guard is rapidly losing its grip on power. The new guard is moving in fast. Being an incumbent has nothing to do with it. If Blanche championed the National Health Service she would have won in a dead heat.


by Trey Rentz 2010-06-10 09:06AM | 1 recs
100% Agree.

I continue to contend that the reason we are seeing such gaudy pushback against Unions from the DC establishment is because they know labor's influence grew because of this race.

I equate it to a boxer or MMA fighter taking a really good shot to the head, at which point then jump back and smile, do the little headshake thing, and pretend like it didn't hurt.  It doesn't fool anyone, and we all know they just got rocked.

Except in this case, it fools the media...because they are all morons.


by The BBQ Chicken Madness 2010-06-10 09:30AM | 1 recs
Strange chicken counting MyDD style

 The monumental effort to punish/defeat Blanche Lincoln may not have failed/succeeded (whatever) just yet. It remains to be seen if the damage you are celebrating will result in a Rpublican victory in November.

You all still may get to do that ITYS dance, and in a much more convincing manner.

bizarro politics....

by QTG 2010-06-10 09:48AM | 0 recs
RE: Strange chicken counting MyDD style

I hate to have to break this to you, but Lincoln was never going to win in November.  Her favorables are in high negative double digits, she alienated both sides during the HCR debate, and she's been utterly trounced in nearly every poll for the GE since well into last year.  Halter may have only had a tiny sliver of a chance at winning in the fall...but Lincoln has had no chance at holding that seat since long before there was a primary challenge.

The GOP picked up that Senate seat the moment the AP called the runoff for Lincoln, and this primary had nothing to do with it.


by The BBQ Chicken Madness 2010-06-10 10:51AM | 2 recs
RE: Strange chicken counting MyDD style

You are basically using online progressives as a stalking horse when the Halter challenge was really about unions from beginning to end.  If you want to say the unions have no idea what they're doing and they're helping Republicans when they oppose anti-union Democrats, go ahead and say it, but it's possible the unions aren't complete idiots when it comes to politics.

by Steve M 2010-06-10 11:56AM | 1 recs
RE: Strange chicken counting MyDD style

There will be a Republican victory in this race in November, and it will have nothing to do with the "damage done" by Bill Halter. Lincoln's approval rate in the state is at George Bush levels and has been since before the Halter contest got close. Her head-to-heads with the GOP have also been abysmal since before the primary became a real contest. Anyone who blames Halter for her eventual loss is putting ideology ahead of reality.

by Nathan Empsall 2010-06-10 09:57PM | 0 recs
Enjoy your 'victory'

and the bar-b-cue chicken, if you are right. I can't see how Arkansas would be a sliver more likely to elect a more liberal Democrat over a less liberal Democrat, so we'll see what happens but must agree that neither of us can say for sure what might have happened if the Primary ended differently.  (I enjoy being schooled about unions and the military here, since I have proudly been a member of both. And when I say I'm a Democrat, I say it without shame or equivocation.)

If we lose the seat, we lose, as I see it. Why keep trashing Lincoln unless that is your goal? She's the only Democrat in the race, and no matter how much you dislike her, a Republican is a worse outcome - if you are a Democrat or even a Progressive without a Party label.

don't be a doofus

by QTG 2010-06-10 01:16PM | 0 recs
RE: Enjoy your 'victory'

The diarist was trashing the mainstream punditocracy's propaganda/'analysis' that the primary challenge to Lincoln was a failure. I didn't see Lincoln herself being trashed, and accurate description of her weak record on organized labor is essential to the analysis.

by fairleft 2010-06-10 02:11PM | 0 recs
No. A Win By Lincoln Would Be The Worst Outcome

     Not that she has a very good chance. But if she gets reelected, she'll be another Lieberman, going out of her way to punch the people who put her into office, but then supported her primary opponent after she turned on them.

     I think it's inevitable that when she loses the Village will blame it on the hippies and the "Union bosses": how poor little Blanche had to use all the money the corporations gave her to fend off a primary challenge, and then the hippies and the "Union bosses" wouldn't even help her in the general election.

     Her loss will stand as a warning to Mary Landrieu, John Barrow, and other Blue Dogs: the Democratic base isn't going to sit back and watch you vote against their interests, then turn out and vote for you just because you have a "D" next to your name. The corporations brought you to this dance--dance with them. We've got a full dance card working for people in 35 other senate races who will keep faith with us.

by Ron Thompson 2010-06-10 02:40PM | 1 recs
King Pyrrhus of Epirus

was not a doofus, since he recognized his 'victory' defeating the Romans at Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War for what it was, and for what it meant:

'Another such victory and I am undone.'

by QTG 2010-06-10 09:01PM | 0 recs


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