MARION, Ark. — Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln told voters that outside groups are trying to make an example of her in Tuesday's Democratic primary for not supporting their agenda 100 percent of the time.
Lincoln, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, spent Monday campaigning in northeastern Arkansas. She is fighting to save her seat as she faces a primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
"Just because I'm that good old independent-minded Arkansas person who's going to be working hard for Arkansas, people have decided that since I'm not with them 100 percent of the time, they're going to come in this state and try to badmouth me and talk bad about me," Lincoln told supporters at a barbecue on the front lawn of the Crittenden Courthouse. "Let me tell you folks. I do what's right for Arkansas. I answer to you."
Lincoln faces criticism on the right and left in her bid for a third term. She angered conservatives by supporting the Democratic-led health care overhaul, but frustrated liberals by opposing including a government-run insurance option as part of the reform package.
She and Halter spent the day trying to rally support as they neared the end of a bitter, expensive fight for the nomination. Outside groups such as the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have pumped millions of dollars into both sides of the Senate fight.
"This race has been nationalized by outside groups that have come in and spent an awful lot of money trying to tell Arkansans who we are and what we think," Lincoln told reporters. "What it would do is take away our uniqueness and our personal opportunities in Arkansas to be who we are."
So far, Lincoln is leading Halter in most polls. But those polls show her falling short of the majority she would need to win the nomination outright. Little Rock businessman D.C. Morrison threatens to take away enough votes to force a runoff between Halter and Lincoln on June 8.
Lincoln campaigned around the 1st congressional district with U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, who is retiring at the end of this year. Lincoln had represented the district for two terms in the 1990s.
The head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Lincoln has argued that she's built the experience and stature in Washington to best help the state. Halter has argued that Lincoln has been representing big businesses and Wall Street banks more than Arkansans.
Berry, a fierce critic of Halter, talked up Lincoln's tenure in Washington as one of her chief selling points.
"When you throw away 12 years of seniority, that's not to say that somebody can't get it done, but they're going to be 12 years slower," Berry told The Associated Press. "That's just the way the place works. I didn't make it that way. It's an investment."
Halter planned to spend 25 hours leading up to the primary on a statewide tour, including a stop in West Memphis in eastern Arkansas. The eight Republicans seeking Lincoln's seat also planned to spend the day crisscrossing the state.
U.S. Rep. John Boozman flew around the state on a tour to rally support. He leads in most polls, but could face a runoff with state Sen. Gilbert Baker or former state Sen. Jim Holt. During a stop in West Memphis, Boozman said he believed he's "awful close" to being able to win the GOP Senate nomination outright.
Tuesday's election also features primaries for Congress and state offices. Three of Arkansas' four incumbent congressmen are not seeking re-election to the House this year — including Boozman. Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels has predicted between 30 percent and 35 percent of the state's 1.6 million voters will cast a ballot in this year's primary.