Saturday, May 22, 2010

Parsing the rural vote in the Arkansas Senate race

Blanche Lincoln, incumbent U.S. Senator from Arkansas, is in a June 8 run-off with Democratic opponent Bill Halter, who enjoyed heavy financial support (about $7 million by some estimates) from unions and other out-of-state interests. Of course, Lincoln's substantial war chest was also not entirely "local," and clearly reflects her position as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Read the New York Times Election Day coverage here, as well as earlier reporting on the race here and here.

This analysis by Shaila Dewan of the NY Times appeared the day after the primary. Dewan notes that, when early returns showed Lincoln doing well in metropolitan Pulaski County--home to Little Rock--it was seen as a good sign for Lincoln's campaign. Conventional wisdom held that because she has proved to be a rather conservative Democrat, Lincoln would do best in Arkansas's more rural reaches, while more metropolitan voters in the central and northwest areas of the state would likely favor Halter. As it turns out, that didn't happen. Here's an excerpt from Dewan's story, which highlights the rural-urban axis, as well as the black-white divide:

Mrs. Lincoln won in urban areas like Little Rock and Fayetteville. While some analysts predicted that she was in trouble with black voters, she won in seven of nine Arkansas counties that are more than 40 percent black, perhaps aided by radio advertisements by Mr. Obama that were in heavy rotation on black-oriented stations.

But she lost 20 of 26 largely white, rural counties that stretch diagonally across the state.
Why rural white voters' disaffection with Lincoln? It seems primarily to be about the anti-incumbent mood in the nation, as reflected by several quotes from voters in Dewan's story.

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