Don’t count Lincoln out

There are, thank goodness, interruptions to every election-night narrative — upset victories, triumphant underdogs and, of course, wasted millions. Tuesday’s surprise was delivered, with the help of President Bill Clinton, by the ever-chipper and -unsurprising Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who expected to lose her primary runoff by five points but instead won it by four. The preparations to induct her into a new club of defeated incumbents were halted, and unlike Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who recently saw their own careers end after party primaries, Lincoln lives to fight another day.

After spending years agreeing with Republicans and taking heat for it from national Democrats — as well as some back home — Lincoln scored an unexpected victory for the middle this week, fending off Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and the unions and the netroots and the punishment the left promised to exact for her opposition to a public option in healthcare reform and to legislation, favored by unions, known as “card-check.”

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Handicappers predicted the insurgent Halter, backed by MoveOn and the unions’ $10 million purge campaign, would outperform his poll numbers and defeat Lincoln running away. As the media and experienced political observers joined the drumbeat, Lincoln remained serene and gracious. She refused to quit the party and run as an Independent, as is the current fashion for incumbents on the ropes. Then on Tuesday afternoon as Halter, buoyed by projections of victory, refused to speak of endorsing Lincoln in the event she held on, Lincoln said she would continue to support Arkansas Democrats no matter the outcome.

Her victory speech was Bland Blanche all the way, so dull it appeared she had only prepared a concession.

She congratulated Halter and praised those Arkansans she loves again and again. She talked about the fighting she will continue to do on behalf of those Americans who believe that hard work and diversity can make our nation great again. Never did she attack Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark.), who hopes to beat her this fall in a state President Barack Obama lost by 20 points.

But there is more in store from the endearing Girl Next Door than just an upset win in a primary election.

The failed union campaign against her will have long-term ramifications not only for the union agenda — card-check is dead — but for labor’s political viability in the next two crucial elections for Democrats.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, piled on in defeat, adding that the unions would have preferred to vanquish Lincoln but then ludicrously proclaiming the night “ a tremendous victory for working families.”

Spending millions to defeat a Democrat instead of on races to help Democrats win is still a reasonable use of money and capital to Trumka, who called nearly derailing Lincoln “a virtually unprecedented achievement.”

The Obama administration and its Wall Street friends who expect Lincoln’s strong language to tighten the regulation of derivatives to be struck from the financial services regulation bill pending in the Senate will find the battle begins anew since she will be “fighting” the special interests all the way through November.

Finally, Boozman is favored to win the race on Nov. 2 and finish Lincoln off for good, but he should be wary of her record of beating the odds. In 1993, at age 33, Lincoln was elected to the House, having beaten her former boss, Rep. Bill Alexander. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998, at age 38, in another ambitious quest — to fill the seat of former Sen. Dale Bumpers (D) by defeating former state Sen. Fay Boozman, which she did. His brother John, her current opponent, shouldn’t count her out.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.