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I have liked U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln ever since she barnstormed the First Congressional District in 1992 in a sound truck blaring “Pretty Woman.”

After she unseated U.S. Rep. Bill Alexander, she gave me an interview in which she sounded — save a devotion to virtually unrestricted gun use — as progressive a Democrat as you were likely to find in the South.

As senator, with a different constituency, her politics have moved toward the middle. She's remained personally agreeable and accessible. But, gee, what a mess she's making of health care and, perhaps, her political career.

I've been troubled by the yellow dogs of my acquaintance who are so disgusted with Lincoln that they profess to not care if a Republican beats her in 2010. They would regret it. The best of the horde of Republicans hoping to beat her would be far, far worse. A demeaning view of women would be only the beginning.

Should my fellow travelers wake up to this reality and vote for Lincoln with pinched noses, the enthusiasm gap is still a problem. The hard-core Republican base voter is motivated almost to the point of violence. There'll be no presidential race in 2010 to swell turnout. A Democratic campaign operative in the Delta — his work is turning out black voters — told me that people with solid reasons to support Lincoln, including legislative favors, just don't seem to care about her fate.

Several political professionals knock Lincoln for not spending enough time in Arkansas. She can be excused somewhat by the demands of the Senate and young children. But you can't do enough laying on of hands on home soil, particularly when poll after poll puts your favorability rating below 50 percent. The Lincoln campaign seems more obsessed with money than people, apparently thinking that a huge treasury alone will guarantee success. They are wrong. Whoever wins the Republican nomination will have ample money, in either direct or indirect support, to get out a message.

Lincoln's supporters gripe that she's a victim of sexism.  They think Sen. Mark Pryor, politically indistinguishable in many ways, gets an easier ride. Tough. Lincoln must man up. She's on the ballot. Mark Pryor isn't.

She was combative with reporters Saturday in announcing her deciding vote to allow debate to begin on health legislation. She said she's doing what she thinks best for Arkansas voters, not serving a special interest. Even if she's sincere, her position is harder to articulate and still boils down to protecting private insurance companies from competition..

I still can't believe that, in the fullness of time, more Americans wouldn't appreciate a successful effort to provide more people with health coverage and more protection from the cruel whims of insurance companies. But time is short for 2010 candidates.

Perhaps Lt. Gov. Bill Halter will test my theory. The Father of the Arkansas Lottery and the recent champion of a successful free health clinic for a thousand of the state's needy, Halter will never be more popular. In the Second District, where barely a quarter of Democrats are happy with Lincoln, the dissatisfaction is not because she's too liberal.

Halter, should he jump in the race, could win a Democratic primary that will have few other contests of note and an incumbent with a tepid base. Moreover, given his pluses and given the fact that he would have no Senate record to pick apart, he might be able to win the whole thing. You'd think that prospect might count for something in Lincoln's further health ditherations.

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