Has Blanche Lincoln lost the women's vote in Senate race?

Incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln faces a runoff in the Arkansas Democratic primary Tuesday. As a centrist, she has angered many Democrats, and women could be a key voting bloc.

By , Correspondent

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    Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) of Arkansas speaks with supporter Robert Davis as she campaigns in her home town of Helena-West Helena, Ark., Monday.
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In the past, incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln could have counted on Nancy Baker's vote. But on Monday, the Little Rock voter was on the city's River Market to shake the hand of Senator Lincoln's opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

“She has forgotten the Democratic party,” Ms. Baker said of Lincoln. “We refer to her as the plantation princess. She’s gone completely to the right.”

With a stern challenge from Republican candidate John Boozman looming in the general election, Lincoln has sought to play up her centrist principles. One campaign ad highlighted her votes against Obama administration priorities, from the health-care public option to cap-and-trade energy reform.

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Now, she is in danger of not even making it to the general election, and her drift to the right has apparently alienated one of her strongest voting constituencies: women.

In the May 18 Democratic primary, Lincoln beat Lieutenant Governor Halter 44.5 percent to 42.5 percent, with a third candidate taking 13 percent of the vote. But with the runoff between Lincoln and Halter coming Tuesday, a recent poll shows Halter holding a four-point lead – precisely the poll's margin of error.

While the poll is far from conclusive, it suggests that the national anti-incumbent streak that has already claimed Sen. Robert Bennett (R) of Utah and Sen. Arlen Specter (D) of Pennsylvania in primaries is threatening to do the same to Lincoln. And women like Baker are only adding to the momentum.

A Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll from May 24 to 26 suggested that, among likely Democratic women voters, Lincoln had a 54 percent approval rating. Halter’s approval rating was 67 percent.

Without additional data it’s hard to tell which way female voters will vote, but women in Arkansas may be slightly more liberal than men, says Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll at the University of Arkansas. So “those with higher levels of income and education may be receiving the cues of unions and [liberal advocacy group] MoveOn.org more favorably than men.”

in March, Lincoln fell out of favor with a strong female ally – EMILY's List, which supported her in 1998. Its chair, Ellen Malcom, wrote then that Lincoln had failed to protect women's reproductive freedom during the health-care debate.

Lincoln also has been hit hard by unions and progressive groups who resented her overtly centrist stance on key issues, especially health-care reform. On Memorial Day weekend, former President Bill Clinton appeared at a rally on Lincoln’s behalf. He strongly chastised unions, which had supported Lincoln and him in the past, for spending millions against her for her positions on some complicated issues like the Employee Free Choice Act.

Ultimately, voters’ sentiments may have less to do with gender or ideology and more to do with the anti-incumbent spirit sweeping both parties.

“Back in the fall, Lincoln was having more trouble with men than with women,” says Ms. Parry. “The poisonous national political climate, and a primary challenger fueled by outside money, may have altered things.”

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