Heart & Soul: Lincoln, Halter Guest on ‘Talk of the Nation’ to Talk Democratic Party Identity

Re: This storyline from the U.S. Senate campaign in Arkansas between incumbent Blanche Lincoln and challenger Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, both candidates are said to be guests on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” program today at 1 p.m. local time. That’s 89.1, KUAR, on your local terrestrial radio dial.

Here’s the pitch:

We’ve spent plenty of time this year talking about the divisions in the Republican Party, mostly about the rise of the Tea Party, and also focusing on the various primaries where the ideological differences are most pronounced, such as Florida, Texas and Arizona.

But there are divisions in the Democratic Party as well, and we saw that during the negotiations over health care.  Perhaps the biggest stage where two wings of the party are trying to define what exactly is a Democrat is Arkansas, where centrist Sen. Blanche Lincoln faces a spirited primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, backed by many progressive groups.  The primary is May 18.

Both Lincoln and Halter are our special guests today during the Political Junkie segment on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

(Noted: No D.C. Morrison!)

It’s unclear whether Lincoln and Halter will appear together. That’d be too much fun to realistically hope for!

Update: Show’s over! Halter and Lincoln appeared separately with hosts Ken Rudin and Neal Conan and rehashed a lot of what we heard during last weekend’s Democratic debates, including lamenting the negative tone of the campaign. Both candidates took calls from Arkansas listeners, including two from Hot Springs and a Lincoln supporter in Fayetteville.

After the jump, a tedious recap of an equally tedious hour of radio!

Conan and Rudin interviewed Halter first. Speaking to the issue of which candidate is a true Democrat, Halter said voters don’t care about labels but who’s on your side. Halter said he’s drawn support from moderates and Republicans, in addition to members of the left wing of the Democratic party. He said the problem with Lincoln is that no one’s sure what side of the issues Lincoln is on. He cited her positions on the health care public option and the Employee Free Choice Act.

Bill, a caller from Little Rock, asked Halter how he would have voted on health care and the bank bailout. Halter said he would have voted for the Senate health care bill and the reconciliation package, which he said improved the legislation. He noted that while Lincoln voted for the Senate bill, she voted against reconciliation. The latter he equated to a de facto vote for the “Cornhusker kickback.”

Halter said he would not have voted for the bailout, which he said required more accountability.

True Democrats

Lincoln, appearing in a separate segment, was asked, “Who’s the real Democrat?”

“In terms of representing Arkansas, I fit the bill,” she said. “I’ve worked hard as a moderate in Washington to find the common ground …” She said looking for “pragmatic solutions is what Arkansans are all about.”

She said that because of her votes, she’s been bruised by all sides, left and right. “There’s no doubt that Bill has taken advantage of that,” she said of her chief opponent.

When asked about being called “Bailout Blanche” for her vote for the bailout, Lincoln noted the measure she pushed out of her Agriculture Committee last week regulating derivatives, which has become part of U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) financial reform bill. She called it one of the toughest reform bills on Wall Street.

It’s Getting Ugly

Both Halter and Lincoln spoke to the negative tone of the campaign.

During Lincoln’s segment, a called named Jennifer from Hot Springs said she was a Lincoln supporter but has been dismayed by her campaign’s “name calling.” Why was it necessary for the campaign to turn so ugly? she asked.

“I don’t like negative advertising either,” Lincoln said. But she added that she’s being outspent 3-to-1 by forces outside Arkansas that are advertising “on behalf of Mr. Halter.”

“I don’t like being ugly and I don’t want to be ugly,” she said.

When the hosts asked Halter about the negative campaigning, Halter cited Lincoln’s “Dollar Bill” ads and claims that one of his companies sent jobs overseas. He again pointed out that he took down the “Bailout Blanche” Web site, which he said he regretted approving, in an effort to improve the tone of the campaign.

Woody From Fayetteville

The hosts noted Halter remains behind Lincoln in polls and asked whether he would endorse her should she win. Halter said Lincoln is an incumbent under 50 percent in the polls and that he is going win. “We have all the momentum in this race,” he said.

Woody, a caller from Fayetteville, called during Lincoln’s segment to praise the senator, calling her a “level-headed moderate politician,” something he said the country needs more of.

He said there’s too much divisiveness in politics.

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