LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Lt. Gov. Bill Halter wasted no time Wednesday trying to rally voter support in his runoff with Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who enlisted the help of former President Bill Clinton in her fight for her political career.
Halter, who was out early waving to commuters, called the results of Tuesday's primary for the U.S. Senate nomination a referendum on voter anger with Lincoln.
"People are really making a strong statement about how dissatisfied they are with Washington-based incumbents, and that is something that has been an important part of our race from the beginning, and it will continue to be so," said Halter, who has Washington experience of his own as a former Clinton administration official.
Lincoln, widely considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in Washington, sought to portray the results as a victory — especially in an election season that has led to the ouster of incumbents such as Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
"If you look at what's happened across the country, I think I'm doing pretty well," Lincoln told The Associated Press. "I won last night. I won the popular vote. I may not have gotten to 50 percent, but with three people in the race, I won and I'm moving forward."
In an effort to shore up support, Lincoln said Clinton would join her to campaign in the state on May 28. The former president, who served 12 years as Arkansas governor and remains popular in his home state, has endorsed Lincoln and appeared in ads supporting her re-election bid.
Lincoln's campaign also tried to demonstrate that the senator, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, was back at work representing the state. She headed back to Washington early Wednesday for a key vote on massive financial reform. Republicans ultimately voted to delay final action on the financial reform bill.
Republican Congressman John Boozman, who won the GOP Senate nomination outright, led both Lincoln and Halter in most pre-primary polls.
The contest between Lincoln and Halter had already been expensive and bitter, with the candidates trading daily attacks on health care, trade and other issues. Outside groups such as the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pumped millions of dollars into the race. National labor groups said they would keep pouring money and resources into their quest to defeat Lincoln.
A surprisingly strong showing by a third candidate set up the runoff vote on June 8. Little Rock businessman D.C. Morrison, a conservative Democrat who has called President Barack Obama a socialist and backed repealing the federal health care overhaul, won 13 percent of the vote.
Halter's strong showing indicated that his anti-Washington message had caught on, said Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She said that message could appeal to Morrison voters who cast a ballot for him as a protest against Lincoln.
"They may either sit it out or go to Halter," Parry said.