After the 2008 elections, Lincoln undoubtedly started to hear constituents in Arkansas -- including, undoubtedly, top management at Wal-Mart and Tysons Food, who don't want unions to do to their firms what the United Auto Workers did to General Motors and Chrysler. Polls showed large majorities of the national electorate opposed to eliminating the secret ballot. By January 2009, Lincoln was saying she didn't think "there is a need for this legislation right now."
She wasn't the only Senate Democrat to take that view. Her Arkansas colleague Mark Pryor, re-elected without opposition in 2008, said he wouldn't co-sponsor card check again. Card check slowly died.
Union leaders are under no illusion that there will be more Democrats in the next Congress than in this one. But they think far ahead, and they decided to oppose Lincoln to teach every Democrat a lesson: If you oppose big labor, we will end your career. Whether they persuaded Halter to run or just hitched a ride on his last-minute candidacy, they went all-in for him.
They weren't swayed by arguments that a primary fight would weaken the Democratic chances in the general election. Polls showed both Lincoln and Halter well behind Republican Rep. John Boozman anyway. The idea was not to win the seat for a Democrat, but to teach Democrats that they had to back card check or suffer political death.
Despite Halter's considerable political skills, the unions fell short. In the May 18 primary, Lincoln was forced into a runoff, as she led Halter by only 2 percent. In the runoff, she ran against "outside interests" in a state where only 4 percent of workers are union members. It was enough to give her a 52 percent to 48 percent victory.
Lincoln's victory removes the credibility of the unions' threat to end the careers of Democrats who don't do their bidding. The unions rode into Arkansas like Custer rode into Little Big Horn, and unlike Custer they managed to ride out -- but without the scalp they were desperately seeking.
Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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