Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D)
Elected: 1998, term expires 2010, 2nd term.
Born: Sept. 30, 1960, Helena .
Home: Little Rock.
Education: U. of AR, 1979-80, Randolph-Macon Woman's Col., B.S. 1982.
Family: Married (Steve); 2 children.
Elected office: US House of Reps., 1992-96.
Professional Career: Staff asst., U.S. Rep. Bill Alexander, 1982-84; Lobbyist & govt. affairs rep., 1985-91.
Blanche Lambert Lincoln, the senior senator from Arkansas, is a Democrat who was elected to the Senate in 1998, when she was just 38 years old. She is the youngest woman ever elected to the Senate and only the second woman to win a U.S. Senate seat from Arkansas. The first was Hattie Caraway, in 1932. Lincoln is also the first woman to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee, a post she secured in September 2009 after the death of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, gave up the gavel at the Agriculture Committee to succeed Kennedy as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, allowing Lincoln to move up on Agriculture.
|Blanche Lincoln (D)||580,973||(56%)||($5,816,913)|
|Jim Holt (R)||458,036||(44%)||($148,682)|
|Blanche Lincoln (D)||231,037||(83%)|
|Lisa Burks (D)||47,010||(17%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 1998 (55%), 1994 House (53%), 1994 House (53%), 1992 House (70%)
Lincoln grew up in Helena, on the flat rice lands of eastern Arkansas, where her father and brother are the sixth and seventh generations running a farm raising rice, wheat, soybeans, and cotton. She got her bachelor’s degree from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia, and then went to work in 1982 as an aide to 1st District Rep. Bill Alexander, a Democrat. She also was a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for a brief period. In 1992, she moved back to Arkansas and ran against Alexander, sensing he was in trouble. Her former boss had lost a leadership race in 1986, was named in a lawsuit for a $308,000 debt and had 487 overdrafts totaling $208,000 at the House bank, a practice among lawmakers that was developing into a national scandal. “I’ll promise you one thing,”’ the 31-year-old challenger said, “I can sure enough balance my checkbook.” She won the primary 61%-39%, carrying 23 of 25 counties.
In the House, Lincoln compiled a moderate voting record. She supported much of the Republicans’ Contract with America in 1995. But when the moratorium on regulations threatened duck-hunting season and national wildlife refuges were closed, she got laws changed to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. (Lincoln likes to both duck-hunt and fish.) She was re-elected in 1994 by only 53%-47%, but she seemed positioned to hold the seat when, in January 1996, she announced that she was pregnant with twin boys and would not run for re-election because of the strain of campaigning in an Arkansas summer during a difficult pregnancy. She and her husband, Steve, are the parents of twin boys, Reece and Bennett.
When Democratic Sen. Dale Bumpers announced he would not run for re-election in 1998, Lincoln got into the race. She flashed snapshots of her twins and ran ads showing her overseeing mealtime, balancing one twin on her lap, bouncing the other on her knee, laying her head on her husband’s shoulder. “Daughter, wife, mother, congresswoman . . . Living our rock-solid Arkansas values,” the announcer said. In the May primary, she faced Attorney General Winston Bryant, the Democratic nominee in the 1996 Senate race. She led by an impressive 45%-27%, getting 64% in her old 1st District, which cast nearly one-third of the votes. She won the June runoff 62%-38%.
In the general election, Lincoln stanched a Republican tide that had been rising since President Clinton left the state. The Republican nominee was Fay Boozman, an ophthalmologist from Rogers, in northwest Arkansas. Boozman said he had had a profound religious experience in 1992, sold his medical practice, and ran for the state Senate, where he was the champion of a ban on partial-birth abortion. He said the Bible dictated his anti-tax philosophy. But he made a serious gaffe when he said it is rare for women to get pregnant by rape because fear triggers a hormonal change that blocks conception. Lincoln won 55%-42%. Boozman carried the northwest corner of the state and little else.
Lincoln’s voting record is to the left of the midpoint of the Senate. In 2000, she was among a group of senators who formed a centrist group called the Third Way. Working with her 1st District successor, Democratic Rep. Marion Berry, she promoted farm exports and strongly supported ending the Cuba trade embargo. She voted for the partial-birth abortion ban, saying it was “always a difficult vote.” In February 2001, Lincoln got a seat on the Finance Committee and played an important role in some key votes in the closely divided Senate. She and other moderates negotiated with Republican Chairman Charles Grassley on legislation to make the child-care tax refundable to those who pay no income tax and to create a new 10% income bracket, both of which ultimately passed. She was one of 12 Democrats to vote for President Bush’s massive tax cut in 2001.
In 2005, she opposed Republican attempts in the Finance Committee to reduce the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending, and in 2006 she successfully fought for funding in the budget to combat methamphetamine. Lincoln has also proposed numerous changes in tax law: legislation making it easier for disabled veterans to claim tax refunds, a bill permitting individuals to contribute $5,000 annually to tax-free accounts for long-term care, expanding the use of the “rehab tax credit” for the revitalization of older neighborhoods and low-income areas, and providing tax incentives for landowners who protect endangered species on their properties. In 2008, she pushed legislation to give tax credits to small businesses that pay at least 60% of the cost of their employees’ health insurance. It didn’t pass, but it was a top priority for Lincoln heading into the 111th Congress (2009-10).
As a centrist, Lincoln often goes her own way. She supported the Iraq War but later criticized the Bush administration for mismanaging the war and its aftermath. She was the only Arkansas Democrat to vote for the 2003 Republican plan to create a prescription-drug benefit as part of the Medicare program. “I thought the good outweighed the bad,” she said. But in 2004 she co-sponsored a bill to authorize the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, a provision expressly left out of the original bill because many Republicans opposed it, as did the powerful pharmaceutical industry. While she joined other Democrats in filibustering the nomination of Miguel Estrada and other appeals court nominees, Lincoln supported the nomination of Arkansan Leon Holmes even after he was criticized for years-earlier comments on abortion. He was confirmed 51-46. Lincoln voted for John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court, but she opposed the nomination of Samuel Alito to the court.
Never far from her mind are the rice farmers of Arkansas’s Delta. She was one of two Democrats to vote against the farm bill in February 2002, because she said it was not generous enough to cotton and rice farmers. She fought unsuccessfully against limits on farm subsidies. Three rice farms in Stuttgart and Helena were among the top five recipients of farm subsidies in the country. She has supported the $16 million Grand Prairie irrigation project, to replace water that rice farmers get from the nearly depleted alluvial aquifer. And in 2006, she supported disaster relief assistance for farmers hurt by drought and fuel costs.
After Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, Lincoln earned a seat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a position that allows her to promote incentives for biofuels and biodiesel producers. She was expected to focus on energy policy in the new Congress, building on the work she and a group of bipartisan senators began in 2008. The group, which includes fellow Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat, is aimed at coming up with strategies to end U.S. reliance on oil for energy.
National Republicans, anticipating a Bush victory in Arkansas in 2004, hoped to target Lincoln. But in August 2003, GOP Gov. Mike Huckabee said he wouldn’t run against her, and former Rep. Asa Hutchinson made no move to leave his No. 2 post in the Department of Homeland Security. That left the Republican nomination to state Sen. Jim Holt, who raised only $106,000. Lincoln raised $6.4 million. Holt emphasized his opposition to same-sex marriage, which that year Arkansans voted 74%-26% to prohibit, and Lincoln’s vote against the federal Family Marriage Amendment. Lincoln ran 11% ahead of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and won 56%-44%, losing 20 of Arkansas’s 75 counties, mostly in the northwest.