Blanche Lincoln: A Vote for Health Care

blanceBoston Last week while in Memphis, it was natural to start thinking about Senator Blanche Lincoln, the Queen of Eastern Arkansas directly across the mighty Mississippi and a long stone’s throw from the Bluff City.  I found myself speculating about a race in Democratic primary between Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter and Senator Lincoln and picking up the phone and making some calls to old political hands in the Wonder State to see exactly what they were hearing and thinking.

On Halter the bottom line was easy to find.  He was opportunistic and ambitious, but no one felt there was any way that he was going to take a risk of rolling snake eyes in a primary and losing to Lincoln, and the odds for him to win would be huge.  He had dipped his foot into the Governor’s race when he first returned after a 20-year absence from the state, and within weeks was running for the relative safe haven of the lieutenant governor’s slot, which is a statewide post but with a light footprint.    He had a lot more dues to pay and the end of Governor Beebe’s time in 2014 was likely his best shot.

Furthermore the push for Halter to run would be to the left of Lincoln at least by a little, and all of the people I visited believed that Lincoln would end up voting for health care reform at the end of the day to give a vote to try and hold African-American and working votes against likely tough challenges from the right in the Republican list.  One of the most interesting points made by one of my friends was the belief that Lincoln’s elevation to the being Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a huge plum that partially fell into her hands with Senator Ted Kennedy’s death and the shake out of various lions of the Senate for new jobs, would not have come so quickly in September without a clear understanding from Senate leadership, meaning Majority Leader Reid, without a direct commitment for her vote on health care reform.  Simply put, as a Committee chair she’s going to need Reid, and need him a lot in the future, and in the classic expression of former Speaker Sam Rayburn, “you have to go along to get along” in Congress.

This will be as much as she gives between now and her re-election effort most observers feel, which spells tough luck for labor law reform though since Lincoln is known as the Senator from Tyson, there’s still a chance that Archie Schaffer and other Tyson hands who have been vocal advocates of more cheap, immigrant labor in Arkansas might be able to get a little something, something from her on this post-re-election.

My sources weren’t betting people, but push-come-to-shove, they felt Lincoln was a vote for the health package, even though that’s as far as she’s likely to go.

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