As Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas navigates the political minefield of health care reform, the two-term Democrat may be hewing a more conservative course in the wake of a new poll by Public Policy Polling which found her in a dead heat with three potential Republican challengers despite scant name recognition.
PPP, whose sampling of voters skewed Democratic, found that only 36% of respondents approve of Lincoln’s job performance, while 44% say they disprove. In March of this year, the same outfit found that Lincoln maintained an approval rating with a 5-point positive spread.
The three would-be GOP challengers polled included state Senator Gilbert Baker, Huckabee fundraiser Curtis Coleman and Harvard-educated lawyer and U.S. Army veteran Tom Cotton. Among them, Baker performed the best; however a majority of Arkansans—ranging from 78% to 83%—were unsure of their opinions on the three men.
“You couldn’t get a clearer indication that the national momentum is with Republicans right now than a poll showing some guys with single digit name recognition running even with an incumbent Senator,” said PPP’s Dean Debnam.
With Obama’s health care proposal fairing worse in the polls than former President Clinton’s defeated reforms of 1994, Lincoln must take into consideration the consequences of supporting the President’s contentious legislation in a state whose voters ten months ago gave Republican John McCain 59% of the vote.
What's more, the hemorrhaging of Democratic support to wavering public opinion raises a serious dilemma for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and poses an acute challenge to the President’s legislative agenda, as Democrats today lost their filibuster-proof majority with the death of Senator Ted Kennedy.
Reid must accept the political reality that Lincoln, who previously bucked party leadership on the cap-and-trade legislation designed to reduce carbon emissions and the reauthorization of banking infusion, may be the next casualty in the polarized health care debate.
UPDATE: Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Doyle Webb responds:
"It's obvious that Sen. Lincoln is vulnerable, and her approval rating of just 36% reflects the fact that she no longer represents the values of Arkansans. It's clear the people of Arkansas reject the liberal agenda she supports in Washington D.C. Recent health care town halls have shown us that Arkansans want leaders who protect their interests, not control their lives."