Updated: 7:40 p.m.
In the 36 hours after Bill Halter announced he would challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary, the Arkansas lieutenant governor was embraced by a coalition of progressive groups that raised more than $1 million to support his campaign and are promising to spend millions more in independent expenditures on his behalf.
And yet, in one of his first interviews since launching his campaign Monday, Halter hesitated to say that he is challenging Lincoln from the political left.
“I don’t think you can put one-word labels on this,” Halter said. “We’re not running from the perspective of the conventional political spectrum and ideology. … You’re going to see people that label themselves as Republicans supporting my campaign, you’re going to see people who call themselves independents supporting this campaign, and you’re certainly going to see people who … label themselves as Democrats supporting us in this campaign.”
Halter said he is running to bring “common-sense solutions” to Washington, D.C., and to fight “the special interests who want to stymie different changes.”
Halter echoed those comments in his first television ad, a 30-second spot released Tuesday that is running on broadcast and cable media markets across the state.
As of Tuesday evening, MoveOn.org had raised $854,000 for Halter’s campaign, and other progressive organizations and organized labor had indicated they are prepared to put their muscle behind Halter’s bid. The AFL-CIO pledged on Monday evening to drop $3 million in independent expenditures in an effort to defeat the moderate Lincoln.
But when asked if those groups could reasonably take credit for his candidacy, Halter replied that he is “grateful of the endorsements and support from individuals and organizations from every part of the political spectrum.”
Two issues that have caused Lincoln to draw the ire of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party this cycle were her resistance to the inclusion of a public insurance option in health care reform and her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act.
Halter briefly addressed both issues on Tuesday and indicated he supports a type of public option that would let individuals buy into a government program.
“If you ask 100 Arkansans what the public option’ means, they are going to give you 100 different answers. People don’t understand what that truly means,” Halter said. “I would be supportive of giving the public the option to voluntarily buy into a medical program like Medicare. … People are going to understand what that means more than just the two-word phrase public option.'”
As for the Employee Free Choice Act, Halter said it wouldn’t be productive to discuss the version of the bill that caused so much tension between Lincoln and labor unions last year.
“As you know, the previous legislation that was labeled as card check,’ it’s no longer on the table,” he said. “The negotiations now have moved beyond that and have moved into a discussion of can we make elections occur more rapidly and how can we ensure that workers have a process where they have the ability to decide collectively for themselves how they want to be represented in negotiations.”
“I want people to be able to come together and discuss straightforward, common-sense changes to labor law that are going to be fair to working men and women and their ability to decide how they would like to collectively negotiate,” Halter added.
Lincoln’s camp said Halter’s response on the issues of the public option and EFCA sounded more like a dodge than a position.
“Liberal groups and labor unions from outside of Arkansas are working to unseat Sen. Lincoln on account of these two specific issues,” Lincoln spokeswoman Katie Laning Niebaum said. “If Bill Halter can’t answer these simple questions, why is he receiving their support? Is he playing them for fools? What’s he telling them that he’s not telling everyone else?”