Can Sen. Blanche Lincoln Survive Final Primary Challenge Tonight?

Democrat Blanche Lincoln, sworn enemy to the left, may see her Senate career come to an end tonight in Arkansas, where she faces a runoff against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. The polls are close! Can she just lose already?

The runoff stems from a May 18 primary, when neither Lincoln nor Halter could cobble together a majority of the popular vote. This was unsurprising, although Lincoln's camp — and most poll-watchers, really — expected her to still come away with a sizable enough victory over Halter that she could just chill out for the next few weeks and coast to victory in today's two-person race. But Lincoln got 44% to Halter's 42%, which is the opposite of "sizable enough." The few runoff polls are now showing Halter with a tiny lead, and since he's the one with anti-incumbent rage on his side, Lincoln should probably personally drive voters to polling stations on a large school bus, all day, giving them popsicles and actual dollar bills.

Does Lincoln "deserve" to lose? Deserve's got nothing to do with it, but yes, anyway, she does.

It's decidedly un-fun to be a Democrat up for reelection in a thick-red state during a lean anti-Democrat year. Most Democrats in this case would have to veer towards the more "conservative" side, which now for whatever reason entails stripping meaningful populist provisions from needed reform bills.

But in 2008, with its energetically pro-Democrat atmosphere, types like Lincoln had no problem joining in the party, campaigning with Obama, showing support for the impending New Progressive Future, etc. Then, when the time came to move these items through Congress, she balked: she switched her position on and then blocked the Employee Free Choice Act — organized labor's most desired (and currently dead) legislative item in this Congress, something that would make it easier to form unions — from reaching a Senate vote; later, she helped put the final kill on including any sort of public option in the health care reform bill by threatening to join Republicans in filibustering her own party's signature legislative item. (Hilariously, her exuberant support for the public option was still on her actual Senate website at the time. Word has it that she kind of sucks at the Internet.)

Recently she's tried to make it up, politically, by drafting Very Strict derivatives language in the Senate financial reform bill — specifically, a rule requiring banks to spin off their derivatives desks into separate affiliates trading on their own capital base, away from depositors' money.

This language is shockingly still in the Senate bill that recently passed! But legislators still will have to vote on a final combined House-Senate package soon enough, and the Congressional leadership and the White House and even other figures that have earned liberals' trust, like FDIC chair Sheila Bair and stern old smart person Paul Volcker, think it's too much. (PSST: Banks don't like this either! Because it is a regulation of any form and will take them a whole 3.5 nanoseconds to figure out how to circumvent it, completely.)

The running belief now is that Lincoln's language will certainly be eliminated if she loses her primary, but does anyone really think it will stay in much longer even if she wins? The powerful people who run America really want this killed. They appeased Lincoln's political desire — and have no doubt, this was a political move, for Blanche Lincoln to write insanely strong derivatives language out of nowhere — to throw a bone at the left long enough. If she wins, they'll kill it, and Lincoln will pretend to throw her arms in the air and declare herself a progressive martyr whose anti-establishment voice will be necessary to counter the corporatist Senate monsters for the next six years, so can you please contribute $30 to the Blanche Lincoln 2010 Victory Fund?, and so on.

Odds are that no matter whether it's Lincoln or Halter who emerges as the Democratic candidate tonight, the Republicans are much more likely to pick up this seat, because, again, Arkansas, anti-Democrat year, angry people hating everything showing up to vote in the angriest possible way, etc. At least Halter would bring with him a more energetic Democratic base, replete with strong union and progressive activist backing.

Blanche Lincoln would have, what, a piece of paper with politically-motivated strong financial reform language that never made its way into the United States Code, to wave around in front of people, muttering "Eh? Eh?" That would be pretty funny, but still.

[Image via AP]