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From Congress to Costco 

WASHINGTON — A video camera captures one side of a conversation between Sen. Blanche Lincoln, incumbent Democrat from Arkansas, and one of her [then] 10-year-old twin boys as she drives along a freeway wearing a cell phone headset.

 “Why don't you turn your Game Cube off and practice your piano for a little while, OK?” she instructs.

The clip is from the 2007 documentary, “Fourteen Women,” about the unique stresses faced by Lincoln and her female colleagues in the U.S. Senate, especially those with young children.

Checking in with family on the way to and from Capitol Hill every day is just a small part of what, for most, would be an exhausting routine. But if Lincoln, 48, is to create any quality time with her family at her suburban Washington home, she has few moments to waste. That's why she wears out her Crock Pots and stays in close contact with husband Steve, a Washington area physician, in case something happens to one of the now 12-year-old twins, Reece and Bennett, at their public school.

The year 2010 doesn't hold promise for stress reduction. She's up for re-election and poll numbers that put her below 50 percent seem to beg for a Republican opponent, if you believe the GOP's frequent posturing on the subject.

 

Stress or no, her down-home Helena manners rarely fail her. When a reporter is ushered into her spacious and recently renovated quarters in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, she immediately springs from her desk and comes across the plush blue carpet to greet him. “You taking care of yourself?” she asks.

The reporter mumbles something about how he's trying to, and she says “It's tough, let me tell you.” Lincoln has recently undergone some back surgery herself.

Her desk is clean and orderly, not strewn with policy memos or articles. Political knick-knacks, pictures of her husband, and books and pictures highlighting Arkansas are in their proper places filling the cabinets on the far side of the room.

With two aides sitting nearby, she invites her guest to sit on a couch while she takes a seat immediately in front of a nearby coffee table, one that just happens to have the latest full-color pictures of her twins.

From time to time in the 30-minute interview she will throw her neatly coiffed brunette hair back, but for the most part sits with her hands on her knees and initiates the conversation: “So what did you want to talk to me about?”

Current politics is a good place.

This year marks Lincoln's 10-year anniversary in the U.S. Senate and it might turn out to be the most pressurized yet. Facing re-election, she is widely regarded as a key centrist vote for President Obama to pursue if he is to move his ambitious agenda, one that some analysts say is filled with issues especially controversial with “red” state constituencies such as Arkansas's. Even with Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's crossover to the Democrats, that remains the case. Lincoln, like Specter, is far from a predictable 60th vote to stave off a GOP filibuster. Lincoln, in fact, noted the similarities between the two of them on April 28, the day Specter made his switch.

Lincoln's presence in the chamber at a time when Obama tries to execute the biggest about-face in government since the Reagan revolution of the early 1980s is history repeating itself. Democratic predecessor Dale Bumpers held the seat when Reagan took office. Bumpers tried hard but unsuccessfully to stop the “trickle-down” economic policies of the Republican icon. Hattie Caraway of Arkansas held the same seat when Franklin Roosevelt, under the guise of the New Deal, executed the other 180-degree turn the government has seen in the past century. Caraway was the first-ever elected female senator in U.S. history and was the only woman besides Lincoln that Arkansas has sent to the chamber.

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