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Unconventional wisdom 

Not until the national pundits told us, after the election, did we know that the conventional wisdom had been that Sen. Blanche Lincoln would lose to Bill Halter, what with him having all that labor support. Whoever heard of a labor-backed candidate losing in Arkansas?

Really, everybody who lives here has heard of it, though some seemed to forget, or pretend to forget, in their eagerness to present a big-money, big-business incumbent senator as an underdog against a lieutenant governor relying on the janitors' union to lift him into higher office. Besides the intangible advantages of incumbency, Lincoln was the candidate who had more money and more "outside" money — raking it in from agribusiness, industrial polluters, and the like. The towering gullibility of some Arkansas voters causes them to see these corporate interests as friendlier than their neighbors down the street who've joined a union, or thought about it. Corporations and the politicians they elect promote this fiction, and have succeeded in keeping Arkansas workers underpaid and demoralized, believing they dare not associate with organized labor lest bad go to worse.

Arkansas politicians understand. Bill Clinton saw that the sure way to help Lincoln was to belabor labor. David Pryor lost a U.S. Senate race with labor support, and won after he became a labor baiter. If there's a next time for Bill Halter, he'll be warning us against out-of-state union bosses.

Out-of-state pundits do not have a monopoly on political error. Native sages cherish the belief that Arkansas is a populist state, despite its right-to-work-law, its regressive tax system, its unelected regulators and its virtually spotless record of kicking the butts of such populist-type candidates and populist-type issues as come before it, Halter being the latest. Arkansas never had a Huey Long. We've had politicians who talked about defending the common man from the elite, Jeff Davises and Orval Faubuses and Jim Johnsons, but their real game was racism, not populism.

Now, the Senate race offers the usual range of selection. No populist or union-friendly candidates here, just Lincoln, a sometimes well-intentioned middle-of-the-roader, and John Boozman, way to the right and shockingly partisan, but also so dull that even his fellow reactionaries might not turn out on election day. That's probably Lincoln's best hope.

The choice is even starker in the Second District congressional race, where it's pretty much Van Helsing vs. Dracula. Joyce Elliott would be a fit successor to Vic Snyder, and Tim Griffin would be a fit agent of Karl Rove. Griffin is alleged to have worked in the George Bush campaign to keep black people from even voting. To find one running against him must be deeply painful, poor fellow.

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