Bill Halter, Blanche Lincoln Take Runoff Bids into Final Hours

Associated Press + More

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A bitter and expensive fight for the Democratic Senate nomination entered its final hours early Tuesday as Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter wound down a contest that could be the last of Lincoln's political career.

Lincoln, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election, planned to greet Little Rock-area voters at the polls Tuesday morning before voting with her husband. Halter was set to wrap up a marathon statewide tour by visiting an International House of Pancakes in Conway and waving to voters at a busy Little Rock intersection before casting his own ballot.

The stops mark the end of a three-week runoff between Lincoln and Halter. The winner of Tuesday's contest will face Republican Congressman John Boozman in the general election. [See which industries are giving money to Boozman.]

Lincoln and Halter have spent more than $10 million on the contest combined, and outside groups such as the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have poured millions more into the race. Lincoln spent the closing days of her campaign attacking unions and liberal groups backing Halter's bid, saying they're trying to buy Arkansas votes.

"The nation is watching us," Lincoln told supporters at a Monday luncheon in Forrest City. "It's watching Arkansas to see who we are, what kind of people we are. Do we stand up for ourselves and our values, or are we going to be bought off by special interest groups?"

Lincoln has angered conservatives by voting for the Democratic-led health care overhaul, and liberals have criticized her for opposing a government-run insurance option as part of the health reform. She's also been targeted by labor unions backing Halter for opposing the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize. [See who is giving the most money to Lincoln's campaign.]

Halter has accused Lincoln of flip-flopping on that legislation and other key issues. Despite the backing of liberal groups, Halter says he's the more fiscally conservative of the two in the race.

"If you send the same people back to Washington, you are guaranteed to get the same results," Halter told reporters as he campaigned at the River Market in downtown Little Rock on Monday.

Tuesday's election also features a Republican contest for northwest Arkansas congressional seat and Democratic runoffs for congressional seats in central and eastern Arkansas. Democrats also will choose their nominee for secretary of state and land commissioner. Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels has not predicted how many voters will cast a ballot in Tuesday's election, but history suggests it will be much lower than the May 18 primary.

Twenty-nine percent of the state's 1.6 million registered voters turned out for the May primary.