Sen. Lincoln leads in battle for survival in Arkansas; GOP Rep. Bob Inglis in SC runoff

By David Espo, AP
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lincoln struggles to survive Ark. primary battle

WASHINGTON — Embattled Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln led narrowly in her quest for nomination to a new term Tuesday night, battling a labor-backed rival as well as an anti-establishment tide in an Arkansas runoff. A second incumbent, Republican Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, trailed his primary rival badly and limped into a runoff.

In another South Carolina race, state Rep. Nikki Haley ran far ahead of her rivals in the Republican gubernatorial primary but fell short of the majority needed to win the nomination outright. She will face Rep. Gresham Barrett in a June 22 runoff.

With polls showing a sullen electorate, there was no shortage of subplots as voters in nearly a dozen states chose candidates for Congress and governors’ offices. Californians decided whether to lead the fall GOP ticket with a pair of wealthy businesswomen campaigning on promises to cut spending. Tea party activists tested their muscle in Nevada, backing Sharron Angle in a race to select a Republican opponent against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a state where unemployment was 13.7 percent in April.

Nevada’s Republican governor, Jim Gibbons, faced strong opposition for renomination after a term marked by a messy public divorce.

In Arkansas, Lincoln had 51 percent of the vote with ballots counted from nearly two-thirds of the state’s precincts, to 49 percent for Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Inglis’ opponent, Trey Gowdy, was ahead handsomely in their GOP primary race, but he was shy of the majority needed to avoid a runoff in two weeks.

In South Carolina’s Republican gubernatorial primary, Haley had 49 percent of the vote with returns counted from nearly all precincts. Barrett trailed with 22 percent.

Gibbons, Lincoln and Inglis were at risk for joining a list of incumbents sent packing in earlier contests — Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., and Parker Griffith, R-Ala.

Curiously, given the national mood, a pair of former governors — Republican Terry Branstad in Iowa and Democrat Edmund G. Brown Jr. in California — hoped to take the first steps toward reclaiming the power they once held.

The races took place in the shadow of the worst recession in decades, stubbornly high unemployment, dispiriting day-by-day images of the damage caused by an offshore oil rig disaster, and poll after poll that reported the voters angry and eager for a change.

“I don’t believe very many politicians or very many people on the political scene, so I just had to vote my conscience and my prayers,” said Judy Hamilton, a 59-year-old administrative assistant from Columbia, S.C., as she cast her ballot in the state’s Republican primary.

That sentiment made the day’s balloting a prelude to the fall, when Republicans hope to challenge Democrats for control of Congress and the two parties vie for three dozen statehouses midway through President Barack Obama’s term.

In a pair of Virginia congressional districts likely to become fall battlegrounds, Republicans chose Scott Rigell and Robert Hurt to challenge Democratic freshmen Reps. Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello.

And in Georgia, Republican Tom Graves, running with tea party support, won a special election to fill out the final few months left in the term of former GOP Rep. Nathan Deal. who resigned to run for governor.

Lincoln, a two-term moderate, narrowly led in balloting in the Arkansas primary on May 18, but was thrown into a runoff three weeks ago when she fell short of a majority.

“There are very few who come out on the battleground and dare to say, ‘Where is the common ground? Where do we solve these problems?’ One of the reasons I’ve been beat up is I’ve gotten out of that foxhole. I’m out here in the middle,” the endangered incumbent said after voting in west Little Rock.

Organized labor, angered over Lincoln’s positions on health care, union organizing proposals and trade, poured more than $5 million into an effort to lift Halter to the nomination. Union leaders said they were intent on demanding accountability from lawmakers who make promises and then fail to follow through.

Still, Halter declined consistently to state a public position on one of labor’s big priorities — the proposal to make it easier for unions to organize workers.

The winner will face Republican Rep. John Boozman in the fall in a race that the GOP has made one of its top targets.

There were gubernatorial primaries in California, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, South Carolina and South Dakota.

In South Carolina, Haley battled several rivals as well as claims that she has had trysts with two men. She vociferously denied the allegations of infidelity, and relied on support from tea party activists and an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to aid her in the race with Rep. Gresham Barrett, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and state Attorney General Henry McMaster.

In California, Brown faced little opposition for the Democratic nomination to reclaim an office he left in 1983. Among Republicans, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner were the leading contenders in a battle of multimillionaires. She spent more than $70 million of her own fortune, while he put in more than $25 million.

In Iowa, Branstad, who served four terms as governor before leaving office in 1999, was opposed by two candidates as he sought the Republican nomination to run against Gov. Chet Culver.

In the California Senate primary, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Rep. Tom Campbell and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore sought the Republican nomination to oppose three-term Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in the fall.

There also were primaries in 97 House districts, with little serious opposition for most incumbents despite the evident public anger at elected leaders.

In South Carolina, Rep. Tim Scott was in a nine-way race for the Republican nomination for Congress. If elected in the fall, he would be the only black member of his party in the House.

Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

will not be displayed