The Magazine

Bye Bye Blanche

Can Republicans finally get their act together in Arkansas?

Dec 21, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 14 • By KENNETH Y. TOMLINSON
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These economic leaders made clear to Cotton, according to confidants, that he would have no shot at their money. Lincoln is a power on the Senate Finance Committee. She is now chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She is too important to the business elite to let her politics or performance get in their way.

Despite his accomplishments, Cotton and his family are by no means wealthy. Lincoln already has something like $5 million in the bank. Cotton chose not to risk the financial sacrifice of pursuing his political dream.

With Cotton out of the race, political junkies could not help but reflect on the political good luck that has followed Lincoln throughout her life.

Blanche Lambert grew up in the Arkansas delta, the daughter of a sixth-generation planter. "She may have gone to public schools," explains an old hand, "but I doubt she ever rode a school bus. Her daddy's driver took her everywhere."

After graduating from Virginia's tony Randolph-Macon Woman's College, she landed a job in the Washington office of delta congressman Bill Alexander, an Appropriations Committee wheeler dealer who was rising in the Democratic leadership. In two years, fueled by her ties with Alexander, she was working as a Washington lobbyist.

By 1992, however, Alexander faced financial and political ruin. He was deeply in debt from dealings with Florida business operators, ironically funded by Appropriations "research" earmarks.

Blanche Lambert, with support from her family, jumped in the race. She was only 31, and hadn't lived in Arkansas for years. In normal times her record as a Washington lobbyist--Billy Broadhurst, host of the "Monkey Business" cruise that wrecked Gary Hart's career, had been a client--would have been an albatross around her neck.

But Alexander had become the poster boy for the congressional banking scandal, with 487 overdrafts on his House checking account. Blanche told voters, "I'll promise you one thing, I can sure enough balance my checkbook." With Bill Clinton heading the ticket, she cruised to victory in the fall.

Four years later, married to a Memphis physician and facing a difficult pregnancy with twins, Blanche Lincoln decided not to run for a third House term. Soon, however, she entered the 1998 race to succeed retiring Senate veteran Dale Bumpers and won against a weak Republican opponent, as she did again, with ease, in 2004.

It wasn't until late this fall that Lincoln's luck in never having to face a quality Republican opponent suddenly ran out.
On another large farm in the Arkansas delta, Lincoln's indecisiveness on Obamacare and card check and cap and trade had galvanized the thinking of one of the state's leading citizens. Stanley Reed is a wealthy, self-made farmer who holds degrees in engineering and law from the University of Arkansas. He served five terms as president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau and was chairman of the board of trustees of the university. And he doesn't need the support of the state's financial elite to take on Lincoln.

Reed's official biography touts his opposition to "any new taxes" and "cap and trade" and his support for the "market-driven, free enterprise system to create new jobs." And when he was head of the Farm Bureau, Reed went out of his way to work for passage of a state constitutional amendment affirming the traditional definition of marriage.

Reed has an intense personal following. Declares one neighbor, "Stanley is a Baptist deacon and doesn't drink, but I'd rather go to an Arkansas football game with him than any good ole boy I know."

Reed has decided to make the race. Depending on how she votes on health care, Lincoln could face a primary challenge--from the right or the left. But if Reed secures his party's nomination and Lincoln wins hers, political handicappers believe he stands a good chance of capturing an Arkansas Senate seat for the GOP, the party so many Arkansans favor at the presidential level.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson is a former editor in chief of Reader's Digest.