The Meaning Of Arkansas, Regardless Of The Winner


It's a funny habit we political pundits have. If, say, 3,000 votes separate a winner from a loser, we forget that a small shift in some part of a state could have swung those votes the other way, and we tend to massively over-interpret the meaning of the tiniest of margins. So let's say that the results in Arkansas were flipped -- that Lincoln won by a point, the interpretation ought to be nearly the same, logically.

Here's an example, from @taniel: "Last minute "Lincoln is toast" CW could now allow national Dems to exult instead of noticing a 3-month campaign nearly toppled 18-yr Senator."

OK. But you could just as easily say: A three-month, $10 million campaign fortified by labor boots on the ground and an intense barrage of attacks from the right and the left barely  pushed aside  (or nearly toppled) an unpopular incumbent in an anti-Washington environment.

1. Even in a loss, Bill Clinton is Kingfish. The man has it. He did radio ads and robocalls and campaigned for Blanche Lincoln, and black voters turned out where Lincoln needed them to. (Remember just two years ago how Bill Clinton was in the doghouse? Short memories!).

2. The close matters. A lot of attention will be paid to precisely how each candidate spent their final hours...what the media mix was like...what tinkering the get out the vote operations made.

3. The unions: OK, this one is complicated. The unions MADE this race about the unions. They made a statewide Arkansas race into a race about something outside the orbit of the state's concerns. Arkansas is not a high density labor state. It may be true that a lot of voters did not appreciate being used as proxies for labor's war against moderates, a war that started with Lincoln's vote on a (seemingly) obscure part of labor law ... a campaign issue which never really surfaced.

4. There wasn't much ideological room between Halter and Lincoln. In the end, it was hard to figure out what the race was about. Clearly though, "sending a message" resonated widely. What message? Don't know. Not an ideological message.  But Netroots pressure and labor pressure DID work. It DID force Lincoln to introduce a tougher derivatives bill.

5. Some tough conversations will be ahead for labor and the White House and the Democratic Party.  Conversations that might start like this: "At a time when Democrats across the country are fighting for our lives, to spend $10 million to lose or barely win in Arkansas, to do that is almost criminal."  Labor made its point. Don't taken them for granted. And labor will say: well, if not for us, President Obama wouldn't be getting a tough financial regulatory reform bill. To which the White House will say: really?  And so it will go.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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