Updated 11:33 p.m. Eastern Time
Moderate Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln narrowly escaped a strong challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in a runoff election Tuesday to win the Democratic nomination for Senate in Arkansas.
Lincoln had about 52 percent of the vote with 91 percent of precincts reporting. Halter had 48 percent.
"I couldn't be more proud of my great state of Arkansas," Lincoln said after securing the nomination.
The result brings to an end a protracted and expensive primary battle that nearly resulted in a third incumbent senator failing to reach the general election amid widespread anti-incumbent sentiment. (The first two were Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specter and Utah Republican Bob Bennett.)
Labor played a key role in the Arkansas race, pouring money into Halter's campaign in large part to send the message that it is willing and able to punish Democrats for apparent betrayals. Lincoln garnered labor's ire by reversing herself and opposing so-called "card check" legislation that would have made it easier to form unions, prompting criticism that she is too close to business interests.
In addition, Lincoln angered liberals by wavering on the health care bill, ultimately voting in favor of the bill but not a subsequent package of fixes; her decision to first support and then oppose a public option prompted considerable outrage in some quarters. Progressive groups such as MoveOn.org helped raise millions of dollars for Halter.
In what many saw as an effort to shore up her position with the left, Lincoln, chair of the Agriculture Committee, inserted surprisingly strong language on derivatives trading into the regulatory reform bill working its way through Congress. Many prominent Democrats criticized the language as overly restrictive, however, and critics deemed the effort cynical since the restrictions are likely to be watered down in committee.
Yet Lincoln, who had the backing of national Democrats after twelve years in the Senate, ultimately had just enough juice to pull through. She may have been bolstered by a late appearance on the campaign trail by fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton, who appeared in Lincoln's ads in the run-up to election day. President Obama also cut a radio ad for her.
Throughout the campaign, Lincoln cast unions' support for Halter as meddling by Washington interests who are trying to use Arkansans for their own agenda.
"This election is not about special interests, this election is not about me, this election is about us," she said after winning the nomination Tuesday night.
the two-term senator will now face Rep. John Boozman in the November 2nd general election. Boozman, who has served in the House since 2001, is favored in the race.
"In numerous polls, she has consistently trailed Boozman and all the labor energy that propelled Halter to the runoff from May 18th's original primary date will not be there for Lincoln in the fall," reports CBS News White House producer Rob Hendin.
As Hendin notes, that hasn't stopped the national Democratic party from already framing the debate.
"For Democrats in Arkansas to be successful this November, we must be aggressive in framing the choice for voters," Senator Robert Menendez, the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement. "Democrat Blanche Lincoln is focused on creating jobs, farmers, and the needs of the middle class, while John Boozman has made it clear he would do even more to protect Wall Street, the oil companies and the insurance companies."
Countered Senator John Cornyn, Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee: "Senator Lincoln survived this intra-party war by fully embracing her liberal Washington record...With John Boozman as our nominee, I believe that this seat will be a prime pick-up opportunity for our party this November."
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