A week ago, on the eve of the runoff elections, Jeff and I were discussing the possibility of a Robbie Wills victory and what that might mean between now and November. Specifically, we wondered whether a Wills win would open the door for a third-party challenger to run as the progressive option in the election. Neither of us thought that a third-party entrant had a particularly good chance of winning, but we agreed that Wills’ ridiculous attempts to be Timmy! Griffin Lite had moved him rightward enough that a true left-ish candidate could rally some support in AR-02, especially when you considered that third-party candidates have made decent showings in recent Arkansas elections. In 2008, Green party AR-02 nominee Deb McFarland, running against Vic Snyder when Snyder was arguably as popular as any incumbent anywhere, pulled some surprising totals, both in terms of raw votes and percentage of the vote:
Pulaski: 30,195 (20.07%)
Faulkner: 9,480 (25.64%)
Saline: 12,362 (29.51%)
White: 6,775 (27.99%)
Perry: 1,072 (26.91%)
Conway: 1,662 (21.66%)
Van Buren: 1,819 (29.3%)
Yell: 1,033 (18.31%)
Sure, there was no Republican in the race, which changes things to some degree, but it’s hard to imagine too many Republicans voting for the more liberal Green candidate solely as an anti-Snyder vote. There certainly wouldn’t be enough of those GOP votes to explain McFarland’s entire 23.22%. So I think it’s a safe bet to assume that the majority of those votes were from Dem-leaning types.
Wills’ loss rendered the discussion vis-a-vis AR-02 moot, but Blanche Lincoln’s win gave this “what if” scenario new life in the AR-Sen race. After all, where Wills ran as a moderate centrist, Lincoln ran as The Ultimate Centrist, distancing herself from the left as much as humanly possible without changing parties completely, and she tried to paint Bill Halter as a liberal time and time again. Moreover, and also like Wills, Lincoln crafted (and continues to craft) her campaign strategies and messages based upon her assumption that Arkansas voters are uninformed, naive, or just plain stupid.
In short, all the same reasons that a third-party candidate would seem to have had a chance in a Wills-Timmy! race are present in Lincoln v. John Boozman. There is even a similar track-record of Green Party success (relatively speaking) in AR-Sen races: Rebekah Kennedy pulled in over 20% against Mark Pryor in 2008 (though, again, there was no Republican in that race), which is the highest percentage of the vote for any Green party candidate in any state running for a U.S. Senate seat.
Do I think a third-party candidate could win the Senate race? No, not really. If nothing else, too many voters vote party lines only or vote entirely on name recognition for me to think that someone who wasn’t a Republican or Democrat would actually win a statewide race. At the same time, I have never bought into the idea that you have to vote for a particular party irrespective of the candidate. I will take the Democrat 99% of the time, but at the end of day I am only willing to vote for candidates who I think will represent and advocate for at least a few of the things I care about.
Blanche Lincoln resides in that remaining 1%, and a vote for her offers little (if anything) that a vote for John Boozman would not also bring. In Lincoln’s case, being labeled a Democrat on my ballot is not enough to make me overlook all of the reasons against voting for her, and my guess is that there are a number of voters — how many, I can’t say — who feel similarly. While some of them might currently be planning on holding their noses and voting for Lincoln, I see no reason that a strong progressive third-party candidate couldn’t siphon many of them away from her.
Unfortunately, this whole post is likely to be nothing more than some virtual navel gazing. The apparent Green Party nominee for U.S. Senate — and a third-party candidate in this scenario would almost certainly have to be a Green to have even the slightest chance — is not exactly the type of progressive candidate who would mobilize voters. While he offers some good ideas like full-service medical, dental, and psychiatric insurance coverage for everyone and ending wars fought for little more than access to oil, much of John L. Gray’s platform seems to be based on misguided and outdated ideas about macroeconomics and corporate/anti-trust law. While Gray is almost certainly more progressive and pro-labor than Lincoln, the third-party candidate who would be most successful in this scenario is one who:
- offers left-leaning Dem voters a clear alternative to Lincoln on social issues (see Rebekah Kennedy in 2008),
- proffers solutions that would benefit labor in both the short and long run, and
- has a plan for creating jobs that goes beyond some pie-in-the-sky hope of 100% American-made products that would take years to implement if it ever happened at all.
Here’s hoping that Gray expands his platform to cover some of these bases. Then we might actually have an interesting development in this otherwise depressing AR-Sen election.
UPDATE: After writing this, I confirmed that Gray is not yet officially the nominee from the Green Party. The date, time, and location of the Green Party of Arkansas’ nominating convention will be announced next week. Until Gray (or someone else) is selected at the convention, nothing is official.