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Arkansas NAACP Chairman Takes Issue With Lincoln’s ‘A’ Rating

As she campaigns in black communities throughout Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) has been touting the “A” rating she received from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for her votes on civil rights issues. But the state association president said this week that the Senator is far from a model student.

“If I had to grade her even on health care reform she definitely wouldn’t get an A, she’d maybe get a C minus,” said Dale Charles, president of the Arkansas NAACP.

Charles pointed out that throughout the months of legislative wrangling, Lincoln was far from an enthusiastic supporter of the health care reform bill. Lincoln was one of the last Democrats to fall in line to vote for the Senate version of the bill. As the campaign season has heated up, Lincoln has proudly spoken about her efforts to block the public insurance option from being a part of the Senate bill, even incorporating that message into her first television ad.

This fall, Lincoln is facing the toughest general election campaign of her career, but before she can get there she will have to fend off Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D) in a May primary. Black voters account for a sizable chunk of the primary electorate in a state where the overall black population is 15.5 percent. And while black voters have historically been one of Lincoln’s most loyal constituencies, Halter has been working to court the support of key African-American leaders in the state since before he entered the primary.

Lincoln allies argue that the Senator enjoys broad support in the black community, and her campaign manager, Steve Patterson, doesn’t seem to be inclined to stop using the national NAACP grade in future campaign materials.

“Mr. Charles is entitled to his opinion, but the NAACP score cards are an accurate reflection of Sen. Lincoln’s voting record,” he said.

Charles said Monday that he’s asked the national NAACP to revisit its grading system so scores can better reflect how helpful a Member has been in getting important pieces of legislation passed.

Hilary Shelton, the director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, acknowledged that the association’s grading policy takes into account only a Member’s final vote on a piece of legislation.

“We recognize that there are some things that a report card won’t capture,” Shelton said. “It does not capture … what it takes to get to that vote.”

But Shelton said as long as Lincoln is being accurate in what the report card reflects, “that’s public information and she’s free to use that information in any way she chooses.”

Charles — who added that he’d give Lincoln a failing grade on other issues important to black voters in Arkansas including the nomination of African-American candidates for federal court appointments in the state and the Senator’s stance on the Employee Free Choice Act — said he’s planning to send a letter to Lincoln asking her to stop using campaign literature that promotes her national NAACP score.

“She’s not as accessible as I think she could be,” Charles said. “We are irate with her about the judgeships. We are irate about Employee Free Choice.”

Shelton said he doesn’t dismiss Charles’ concerns.

“I don’t disagree with my president. He knows what’s going on on the ground,” she said. “The issues he’s raising are issues that are also crucial to the constituencies that the Senator serves.”

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