Wednesday, June 9, 2010

If a tree falls in Arkansas ...

Posted By on Wed, Jun 9, 2010 at 10:28 AM

... would anybody in Washington, D.C. hear it?

HEAR THEM ROAR: Women cheered Blanche Lincolns victory Tuesday. Might there have been a gender gap?
  • Brian Chilson
  • HEAR THEM ROAR: Women cheered Blanche Lincoln's victory Tuesday. Might there have been a gender gap?

Frank Wallis, a Mountain Home newspaperman, sent around a comment on MoveOn.org's effort to make lemonade out of Bill Halter's defeat with a statement that said, among others, that the lieutenant governor "was virtually unknown three months ago."

Wallis' comment: "Really?"

Good point.

Halter has only been lieutenant governor for four years after surviving a runoff and general election opponent; he is only the generally acknowledged father of a very popular state lottery that is just about to pour millions on thousands of Arkansas college students. He had less money than Blanche Lincoln, but he had millions and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Arkansas TV owner who couldn't tell you of Halter's days as a Catholic Rocket halfback or a Kroger grocery sacker.

But, of course, Halter wasn't well-known until recently by the people whose world ends at the beltways that ring Washington, D.C. This includes the small media herd that flocks in packs to the story line of the day, as determined by Politico or Fox News or one or another of the bellcows. It's an echo chamber. In this race, the labor/liberal megaphones in that echo chamber for once dominated. They produced the commentary, polls and narrative that Halter was going to march to victory Tuesday over another tired incumbent and wave the liberal banner high.

Oops. Halter lost and the two most liberal counties in Arkansas, despite massive mobilization, went heavily for Lincoln. I confess. I bought into the groupthink, too, with some, but insufficient, doubts.

Arkansas voters made their own call, as they always do. I think there are many different reasons. One thing for sure though. It wasn't because Bill Halter was a Johnny Come Lately the voters barely knew. It might be they knew him too well. And that they decided, finally, that they liked Blanche Lincoln better.

With the clarity of hindsight, I see now that Halter's main theme — he was not Blanche Lincoln — might not have been sufficient for voters who possess more sophistication than pundits often grant them. Maybe voters do want more specifics — like Lincoln's advocacy for corporate farmers, her late and tortured but ultimately welcome vote for health reform, her opportunistic but welcome blow for Wall Street regulation. Oh, yeah, and opposition to card check and clean air legislation.

I'd love to see exit polling on the gender gap. Lincoln was a target of opportunity for labor and liberal groups. She was vulnerable and they piled on to make a point. I know women who believe a male incumbent wouldn't have come in for the same treatment.

This is a good year to be a female candidate. Look at managerial ranks and board rooms all over Arkansas. Women, overwhelmingly, remain outsiders. Even long-time insiders like Blanche Lincoln benefit from this dynamic in a year like 2010. Sneer at women and diminish them with titles like Miz Blanche if you must; just don't think their sisters don't get it.

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