The key question: was Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, a popular Democrat, encouraged to challenge Blanche Lincoln for Senate by any entity other than the liberal blogs? That is -- did the White House, or the DNC, or senior Democrats, privately encourage Halter to mount a primary challenge in order to defeat Lincoln, who trails Republicans in the polls, or to toughen her up for the general election?
A senior White House official insists the answer is no -- this was Halter's own ambition. But don't be surprised if senior Democrats in DC aren't unhappy about the development.
Halter announced his run in a video this morning. Standing in front of a modest-looking house in North Little Rock, Halter says that he's "making Washington is no longer working for this neighborhood and all across Washington." He decries "gridlock, bickering and partisan games while unemployment is at a 25-year high." He points to "bailouts" without "strings attached."
Halter is running as an outsider, but he has extensive Washington experience, serving as a top economic adviser to Bill Clinton and as deputy head of the Social Security Administration during the Clinton years. Before that, he was a senior economist working for Congress. He is a Rhodes scholar, and has two children.
Halter has hinted about a bid for months, particularly after Lincoln had to bargain to secure her vote in favor of health care reform. Halter helped to organize a free health care clinic in Little Rock, earning him national television coverage.
Liberal blogs, like Daily Kos, have encouraged him, and MoveOn has promised to help him. It's a little late to enter the race -- the primary is may 18, but Halter will be able to raise money quickly, and he is well known across the state. Whether his association with liberal blogs hurts him is a question that liberal blogs will have an answer to -- of course not -- but he will certainly be associated with them by his opponents. He's casting himself as an economic populist.
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