Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter exchanged some of their most heated charges on unions and negative campaigning as they met for their second debate Saturday in the high-stakes fight for the Democratic Senate nomination in Arkansas.
Lincoln, viewed as one of the most vulnerable incumbent senators seeking re-election this year, accused Halter of not being clear about what he’s promised the AFL-CIO and other labor unions in exchange for their support. Frustrated with Lincoln’s stance on labor-organizing legislation, the unions have pledged to spend millions in the state to defeat her.
“D.C. labor unions have made themselves an issue in this election by spending over $4 million of their workers’ hard-earned dues in Arkansas on behalf of Bill Halter attacking me,” Lincoln said during the hourlong debate at the Associated Press Managing Editors convention.
Halter countered that the unions had soured on Lincoln.
“They felt that you have turned your back on working men and women in Arkansas,” Halter said.
Labor unions have criticized Lincoln for her opposition to the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize. Opponents have objected to a provision that would allow employees to unionize by singing cards instead of holding secret ballot elections.
Halter has not said how he would have voted on the proposal, and says that labor and business groups are working on a compromise measure.
Less than 19 hours after a debate that featured a third candidate and little vitriol, Halter and Lincoln struck a much more contentious tone. D.C. Morrison, a Little Rock businessman who threatens to force a runoff between Halter and Lincoln, canceled plans to take part Saturday because of a schedule conflict.
Morrison’s absence let the candidates direct their attacks on one another even more forcefully.
Halter and Lincoln have been engaged in an expensive air war of attack ads and faced more questions about the bitter nature of their primary fight. Halter, who said his campaign has taken down a site referring to Lincoln as “Bailout Blanche,” again called on her to stop calling him “Dollar Bill Halter.”
“I would ask you to cease this. I think it’s beneath the dignity of a United States senator,” Halter said.
Lincoln said she wanted a more positive campaign, but that Halter’s business ties were fair game for criticism.
“In terms of ads, it’s important, I have a record and I’m proud of my record in Arkansas. ... The point is, Bill doesn’t have that kind of a record,” Lincoln said. “But he does have a record, and it’s important for people to know about that record.”
At one point, Lincoln derided Halter’s mostly ceremonial job as the state’s No. 2 elected official when she was asked about his pledge to hold town halls in every Arkansas county.
“Remember, Bill’s got a part-time job right now, so getting around to all 75 counties in the state is a pretty easy task for him,” Lincoln said. “I’m working full-time in the United States Senate right now.”
Halter, who successfully spearheaded the campaign for a statewide lottery, responded that his work in that office led to scholarships that will be funded by the games.
“You’re right that the lieutenant governor is a part-time job, but as a result of my part-time efforts 28,000 families this year will get a scholarship to go to college,” Halter said.
Halter continued his criticism of Lincoln’s acceptance of contributions from the political action committee of Goldman Sachs, the major investment bank facing federal civil fraud charges. Lincoln has said her legislation that would impose new limits on banks’ ability to profit from derivatives — which are complex financial tools — was proof that she’s not tainted by the Goldman Sachs contribution.
Lincoln has said her campaign will no longer accept any contributions linked to Goldman Sachs because of the federal charges. On Saturday, she likened the money she’s received from financial institutions like Goldman Sachs to other groups that have an interest in legislation pending before the Senate.
“I suppose it’s also inappropriate for me to take resources or campaign contributions from the National Association of Cotton Growers or the American Soybean Association or the U.S. Rice Producers or ... any of the other entities that I provide laws and regulations for,” said Lincoln, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Halter responded: “Senator, I see a clear distinction between soybean growers and Wall Street. Soybean growers didn’t wreck our economy.”