The Arkansas Election Line – a joint collaboration between Talk Business, Blake’s Think Tank, and The Tolbert Report – issues its preliminary general election rankings for several high-profile state and federal races this week.  Our ratings can be strong, safe, lean or toss-up depending on the perceived dynamics of a race.

Today, we start with the U.S. Senate match-up between Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) and Rep. John Boozman (R), which the Arkansas Election Line rates as "Safe Boozman."

Boozman cruised to an easy victory in the Republican primary this year despite his late entry in the crowded 8-man field. He has already managed to consolidate the support of several of his competitors including State Sen. Gilbert Baker, who will help Boozman in pockets of central Arkansas.

We’ve witnessed evidence that both mild conservatives and hard-core conservatives are comfortable with Boozman’s political leanings.

There are a number of other factors that we feel warrant ranking this particular race as "safe" for Boozman at this time.

All polling data from last summer to last month indicates general election dissatisfaction for Lincoln. Head-to-head match-ups show Boozman with a comfortable lead over the Democratic incumbent.  Independent voters are largely dissatisfied with Lincoln and have indicated a propensity to side with Republicans in the current political climate.

Lincoln’s big pivot to the left in the Democratic primary with her acknowledgement of her swing vote in the health care debate, her support for the stimulus package and her embrace of Pres. Barack Obama (who has underwhelming support in Arkansas) will hurt her with independent Arkansas voters in the fall.  Republicans will remind voters of this alliance with gusto and Lincoln should count on little to no support from any crossover votes this November.

Lincoln also has miles and months to go to shore up her Democratic base.  Despite the battle-tested toughness of her primary race, she only received 52% from Democratic voters versus Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. The remaining 48% are alienated and Lincoln has showed little deftness in reaching out to key constituencies she’ll need in the general election.

The other big challenge for Lincoln – and its a different challenge for Boozman – is a much-needed strong performance from rural voters. In the Democratic primary, Lincoln did poorly in many rural counties, which traditionally have been a source of strength for her in the past. Her poor showing was not because these conservative voters overwhelmingly approved of Halter and his liberal backing; many of those votes were meant to send a signal of protest against her candidacy and Washington incumbency.

Boozman will be introducing himself to many of these voters particularly in the First and Fourth Congressional Districts.  It’s a lot easier to define yourself for the first time than to win back angry voters.  We sense that this core constituency could be swayed by Lincoln’s powerful seat as Agriculture Chairman, but for now, they embody the essence of the anti-incumbency mood that prevails in the state.

There will be additional candidates in this U.S. Senate race owing to the Green Party and Independent Trevor Drown. Mickey Mouse is always good for a few write-in votes, too. As of this snapshot, we don’t see any of these candidacies making a big dent in the final poll results come November.

Finally, if it’s any consolation, our rating on this race would be the same had Halter prevailed over Lincoln in the Democratic primary.  We admit, however, we would have been intrigued by the possible "outsider" campaign he would have waged against Boozman if that match-up had occurred.

Jason Tolbert of The Tolbert Report
Blake Rutherford of Blake’s Think Tank

NEXT: Congressional Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4.


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