A woman's place: The House 

Meet Blanche Lambert, Arkansas's election night surprise, whose politics are a bit surprising, too.

click to enlarge Blanche Lambert image
  • Blanche Lambert

Don't scream at us for whistling "Pretty Woman" every time we think about Blanche Lambert's surprise win in the Democratic primary race for Congress from the first district.

Lambert, vanquisher of the 24-year incumbent, U.S. Rep. Bill Alexander, started it.

As congressional campaigns go, Lambert's ran on a shoestring. She spent about $75,000 — about three-fourths the amount Alexander shelled out.

But Lambert ran hard, speeding around the 25-county district in a truck equipped with a loudspeaker, just like the old days.

To attract attention, the sound truck played music between political spiels. Lambert's first pick for traveling music was suggested by an uncle. It was "Pretty Woman," the late Roy Orbison's classic.

It took an anonymous call to Lambert's headquarters in her hometown of Helena to remind her that the song might not carry the right message for a young woman seeking to break into the predominantly male congressional men's club — that, in the context, it could suggest sexism or vanity or recall the recent hit movie about a hooker.

"It never occurred to us," Lambert said. "We were just looking for something spunky." The Lambert campaign switched to John Phillip Sousa and she shortly marched to victory with 60 percent of the vote. The outcome surprised even Lambert.

In the early days after her primary victory, success didn't seem to have changed her much. Though she had been interviewed by The Washington Post and other major outlets, she hadn't stopped the fresh talk that helped propel her to victory over the controversy-ridden Alexander.

Lambert's talk has a decidedly liberal cast, raw meat, perhaps, for a right-wing Republican, Terry Hayes, who poses a general election challenge. The months ahead will prove if Lambert can stick with that straight talk, or as with her campaign theme music, decide that voters' perceptions require a change of tune.

Blanche Lambert is one of four children, descendants of a pioneer farm family — "not a big farm," she hastens to point out. Just the same, you don't get more old line than the Lambert family.

Lambert is a seventh-generation descendant of the Rev. Jordan Bennett Lambert, a Presbyterian minister who settled near Holly Grove around 1815 to be a missionary to Indians.

The Indians are long gone, but the Lamberts stayed around, with one Lambert branch moving to the Helena area about three generations back. Her great-grandfather married into the Hornor clan, for whom the township that includes Helena is named.

The Lamberts are planters, but Blanche is is a Helena city girl. Her father commuted 28 miles to the fields each day.

In the fourth grade, Lambert made an important decision with political ramifications, though she scarcely could have known it at the time.

The schools were desegregated. Many whites in Helena fled to private academies. Her parents, Martha and Jordan (pronounced JERdin, in the Southern style), wanted Blanche and her brother Jordan III to stay put. The other Lambert children were out of school by then.

"But they didn't want the decision to be solely theirs," Lambert said. "They always tried to incorporate us in decision making, because they thought it was very important to be aware of consequences and to be very aware of what you're doing."

Blanche and her brother stayed in the public schools. "It reinforced in us the importance of building friendships with all people." In high school, school officials still weren't ready for black and white children to mix at proms. "We had a big May Day festival instead. We looked for alternative ways to be together and I thought we were very productive in that."



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