LITTLE ROCK — Rep. John Boozman, the only Republican member of the Arkansas congressional delegation, said Thursday that he’s weighing whether to jump into the already crowded primary contest for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
Two days after Republicans staged an upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race, Boozman acknowledged that he has talked with “a number of people I respect” in Washington and Arkansas recently who have asked him to “seriously consider” getting into the Arkansas race.
There are nine Republicans who have already lined up for the May 18 primary election.
“A number of people have asked me to really sit down and look at this race in terms of who would be the strongest candidate and whether that’s something I would consider,” Boozman said.
“I have told them that I would step back and take a look.”
Boozman, a Fort Smith native who practiced optometry in Rogers, is serving his fifth term representing Northwest Arkansas’ 3rd District. He was re-elected in 2008 with 71 percent of the vote.
Boozman said he’s still planning to run for that U.S. House seat again, adding that “if the filing deadline were today, that’s what I’d file for.”
Since the filing deadline is March 8, that leaves sometime “to evaluate where I could best serve,” Boozman said.
Lincoln, a Helena native who previously served two terms in the U.S. House, is seeking her third term in the Senate.
Steve Patterson, her campaign manager, noted that Lincoln’s camp has not commented on any of the hopefuls in the Republican primary.
“Certainly, it’s his privilege to run,” Patterson said. “But they have to win the primary before they’re Sen. Lincoln’s opponent.”
Word that Boozman is contemplating a challenge in the Republican primary came on the same day Lincoln’s liberal detractors ramped up efforts to draft a Democratic primary opponent to run against her.
Accountability Now PAC, an advocacy group headed by left-of-center bloggers that aims to recruit opponents for incumbents it dislikes, launched a Web site Thursday urging respondents to “sign up to draft” Lt. Gov. Bill Halter to run against Lincoln in the Democratic primary.
Earlier this week, Halter released a statement saying he is “seriously considering all options,” including the 2nd District congressional seat being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder.
Lincoln’s campaign responded by questioning the out-of-state ties of the groups behind the effort.
“Sen. Lincoln knows that Arkansas voters take their elections seriously, and we aren’t easily fooled by national groups with their own agenda,” said spokesman Katie Laning Niebaum.
Also Thursday, the “Rothenberg Political Report” moved the Arkansas Senate race into the “lean takeover” category for rating contested races, meaning the burden has shifted “from requiring Republicans to prove that they can defeat Lincoln to requiring Lincoln to show she can win re-election.”
The report - a nonpartisan analysis of politics and elections followed closely by Washington insiders - noted that several recent polls in Arkansas have shown Lincoln’s favorability ratings dropping at the same time her potential Republican challengers are faring well against her in those ballot tests.
“Given the bent of independent voters (in the recent Massachusetts special election but also in national surveys), we are increasingly doubtful that the Arkansas Democratic senator can win another term,” the Rothenberg report said.
Lincoln’s campaign downplayed the significance of the polls that led Rothenberg to change its characterization of the race. “This is a snapshot in time of a story that’s still being written a full 10 months before Arkansas voters go to the polls,” Niebaum said.
If Boozman enters the race, he would become the 10th Republican to seek Lincoln’s seat. Those who have already announced plans to enter the race are, in alphabetical order: University of Arkansas employee Randy Alexander of Fayetteville; state Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway; businessman Curtis Coleman of North Little Rock,who managed former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s unsuccessful 1992 Senate race; retired Army Col. Conrad Reynolds of Conway; businessman Tom Cox of Little Rock; state Sen. Kim Hendren of Gravette; former state Sen. Jim Holt of Springdale, who ran unsuccessfully against Lincoln for the Senate in 2004; real estate investor Fred Ramey of Searcy; and financial adviser Buddy Rogers of Rogers.
At this point, Lincoln has a massive financial advantage.
As of the last filing date for campaign-finance reports, Sept. 30, 2009, Lincoln had raised $5,793,398. She had spent just over $2 million, leaving her with $4,129,747 on hand.
Her nearest competitor, Baker, had $510,400, while Boozman reported $305,856 on hand, according to Federal Election Commission information compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Those numbers will likely be significantly different when the candidates file their year-end financial disclosure forms at the end of this month.