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Sen. Blanche Lincoln fights for her political life

As a 'Blue Dog' Democrat, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas has often sided with Republicans. But that's left Democrats grumbling and the GOP thinking she's an easy target in the 2010 elections.

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Lincoln often voted with the GOP

She has long been the deciding vote on controversial issues even before healthcare reform appeared on the agenda. During the Bush administration, Lincoln often sided with her Republican counterparts. Even when she didn’t, she teetered on issues.

One memorable fence-sitting episode was during the debate on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In the end, she voted against drilling. Later,she teamed with a Republican counterpart to propose weakening the Endangered Species Act.

This week, Lincoln hedged on “Don’t ask, don’t tell” involving gays in the military, saying she wanted more input from military leaders before deciding her vote. As the Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman, Lincoln, who grew up on a farm family, also targeted Obama’s $3.8 trillion budget proposal, saying she opposed cuts to farm programs – especially subsidies.

She was one of only three Democrats who recently supported a resolution by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Such alignments have put Lincoln in an imperiled position especially with her base. Ms. Duffy says she is as vulnerable as Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

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Don't count her out

But Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll at the University of Arkansas, says not to discount Lincoln just yet.

“This point shouldn't get lost in the rush to declare 2010 to be the watershed election that will, finally, advance competitive two-party-ism in Arkansas nine months before it occurs: She has loads of cash, and it shows no sign of letting up,” says Ms. Parry. Lincoln finished the year with $5 million in her campaign account.

Parry says Lincoln’s deep ties to the agriculture community also shouldn’t be ignored.

Rumors percolate that Lincoln could draw primary opposition from other Democrats. But that hasn’t happened yet, and filing for office ends in early March.

“It’s very hard to tell whether Lt. Gov. Bill Halter will decide to challenge Lincoln in a primary,” Duffy says. “While it must be a very tempting prospect, national Democrats are undoubtedly working to convince him to stay out of the race.”

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