Is Halter Trying to Keep Big Labor at Arm’s Length?

Bill Halter kicked off his Democratic primary challenge to Senator Blanche Lincoln with heavy backing from national labor unions. Now he’s trying to keep his distance from them. On Friday, an independent group called “Arkansas for Change” launched an attack ad against Lincoln that was co-sponsored by a Texas AFL-CIO organizer. The ad hit on many of Halter’s own criticisms of Lincoln, accusing her of “bailing out Wall Street banks—no strings attached” and going soft on consumer financial protection.

Lincoln charged the ad was it was launched by “Halter’s union sponsors.”  But Halter quickly responded that his campaign “has nothing to do with the expenditure ad.” He then tried to disassociate himself from the pledge that the SEIU made in December to help him retire more than $440,000 in campaign debt. The Lincoln campaign has “alleged that the campaign debt has been paid off [by the SEIU], but it hasn’t been—I wish it was,” he told a local news station.


Lincoln has long been a labor target for her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which prompted unions like the AFL-CIO to funnel more than $3 million to Halter’s primary challenge. Now she’s using Halter’s high-profile labor supporters against him, highlighting his meetings “with national labor group[s] in Washington, DC.”  Halter “allows a front group formed a few days ago by national labor unions to do his dirty work,” a Lincoln spokesman recently decried.

Lincoln, of course, has no shortage of backing from Washington special interests and lobbyists—principally from Big Oil, gas, insurance companies, and other moneyed groups who’ve benefited from her corporate-friendly views. And Halter could certainly respond in kind by launching an attack on her own national backers. At the same time, it’s clear that there’s only so far that he’ll run to Lincoln’s left, given Arkansas’ political makeup and industries. On Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” last Friday, Halter defended Wal-Mart, the state’s homegrown corporate giant and long-standing union foe, as a “great employer.” And though he’s significantly more supportive of EFCA than Lincoln, he’s called for a “compromise” on the proposal to facilitate union organizing, rather than outright passage. In the end, Halter seems less liberal than many of his national progressive backers, and he’ll have to carry out a delicate balancing act to continue stoking their support without alienating his voters at home.