2010: Senator Lincoln goes back to Washington, again? 

Forced into a primary run-off that threatens to end her 16 year congressional career, Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is working to reinforce her campaign's consistent portrait of the longtime legislator as a daughter of Arkansas who "in touch" back home and independent in Washington.  

Her campaign's first TV commercial established that posture, with the senator an island of grownup sensibility in a "Kindergarten Kongress" of kids cavorting with Monopoly money and "playing doctor" with health care.

After barely edging her populist challenger, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, by a slim two points, Lincoln's campaign signaled that this message would carry them through the runoff, issuing a primary night press release declaring "This Race is About Arkansas, Not Outside Groups." The release reminded Arkansas Democrats that Halter's bid has been fueled by independent expenditures from national liberal groups like MoveOn.org and Big Labor, including SEIU and the AFL-CIO, which funded a barrage of attack ads against the incumbent.  

Determined exact retribution for being one of the few Senate Democrats to stray occasionally from the party line, these Democratic base groups' commercials hammer the incumbent for being a Washington insider and a pawn of Wall Street in this ailing economy. To counter, Lincoln unabashedly touts her chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee, heralding the help wielding that gavel can offer Arkansas' perpetually impoverished counties.

Blanche Lambert Lincoln knows something about exploiting experience while waging an outsider's campaign for Congress. She followed that play book to find her way (back) to Congress in the first place. A documentarian could have shot a film about her first bid for office. He could have titled it: "Miss Lambert Goes to Washington, Again."

1992 was the fabled Year of the Woman, sweeping in a record 24 House "freshwomen," including Members elected from newly drawn minority-majority districts. Even among that diverse intake, Congresswoman Blanche Lambert stood out for making it to Washington by unseating her former boss. 

Lambert worked briefly as a receptionist in the office of fmr. Rep. Bill Alexander, a long serving Member who had climbed the seniority ladder to the become a Chief Deputy Majority Whip. Caught up in the "House banking scandal" - which involved manipulation of the House's arcane institutional perks - Blanche Lambert challenged her former boss and denied him renomination in the Democratic primary. Alexander had been in Congress for 22 of his former employee's 32 years on the planet.

It was a too-perfect political story of 1992 from either the Year of the Woman or the check bouncing scandal narratives. One story line told of an accomplished young woman who vaulted from being relegated to secretarial duties by a Southern-fried, backslapping Good Old Boy to becoming the first female elected to Congress from Arkansas in her own right. The other plot told of veteran a Congressman who had grown so complacent and comfortable with congressional perks that he was toppled by an inexperienced challenger who was once his most junior of staffers. In practice, neither narrative was a perfect fit for the facts.

In an early headshot that graces her profile in the 1994 edition of CQ"s "Politics in America," Blanche Lambert is the picture of a proper Southern Belle; pretty in pearls and coiffed curls. (She turned the head her boorish and unwed fellow freshman Rep. Martin Hoke (R-OH) who blurted out to the New York Times' Maureen Dowd that he "could date" Congressman Lambert, because she's "hot.") CQ's profile notes notches on her resume that demonstrated Blanche Lambert was hardly the pretty political naif. A post-Hill staffer stint with K Street lobbying firms and work for Sotheby's auction house during post-graduate work in London indicates an ambitious young woman endowed with smarts and savvy. The profile recounts a local newspaper account of Miss Lambert asserting herself to skeptical Razorback Good Old Boys: "Now you don't have a prob with a woman serving in Congress do you?"

Congresswoman Lambert did display the independent streak she now boasts of early on by backing the Penny-Kasich deficit reduction amendment and voting for NAFTA in her first term. Big Labor's Washington spokesmen are hammering her for her trade-friendly record.

A third candidate, D.C. Morrison, attracted an unexpected 13% of Arkansas Democrats in the first round with Tea Party rhetoric and debate performances that poked fun at the heated exchanges between the Senator and Halter. Politico found that his vote was concentrated in rural counties heavy in conservative Yellow Dog Democrats who went to the polls to decide Democratic nominees for county level offices. Many of those voters feel comfortable voting Republican at the state and national level. Morrison seemed a happy weigh station for them at the top of the ticket.

Some of those voters will return to decide run-offs for those county positions.  If Blanche Lincoln can retain her base from the first round and win enough of those Yellow Dog Democrats over, she may edge out Halter.

Talking up her achievements on the Ag Committee and hammering "outside agitators" like MoveOn.org and Big Labor should find sympathetic ears in that target audience.

Treading the fine line between boasting experience while railing against Washington is the formula that propelled Blanche Lambert Lincoln to Washington. She is relying on that time-tested message to save her career in Congress.  

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