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Why Halter's Loss is Not a Defeat For Progressives

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Blanche Lincoln's defeat of Bill Halter in yesterday's Arkansas run-off for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate will be presented in the mainstream media as a defeat of the progressive movement, which backed Lincoln's primary challenger, and indeed launched his candidacy. But even in defeat, Halter's challenge of Lincoln is a net win for progressives.

This is a critical point, so I'm going to say it again. Even though he did not prevail in taking the Democratic nomination from the conservaDem Lincoln, the very fact that Halter made Lincoln run so hard is a victory for progressives -- but only if progressives continue to keep the heat on Democrats.

The Halter challenge saw Lincoln tack a bit to the left, lending her name to the cause of financial reform. But that's just the short-term gain.

The long-term gain is that every Democrat in Congress has been put on notice that he or she will face a primary challenger as a consequence for votes that serve corporate interests over those of regular people.

When the right launches challenges in the Republican Party, they do so to alter the nature of the GOP, not simply to win in that particular general election. Right-wing leaders launch those challenges knowing full well that if their candidate wins the primary, he or she may well lose the general election. But the right plays a long-ball game; they know that if they succeed in changing the nature of the party, they will eventually win their agenda down the road, when their party is returned to power. This is how progressives must play as well in the Democratic Party.

There was another remarkable primary yesterday in Arkansas, one that escaped national notice. Joyce Elliott, a full-throated progressive, won the Democratic primary for the congressional seat from Arkansas' 1st District. She defeated the establishment candidate, Robbie Wills, the speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives. Elliott is an African-American state senator in a congressional district that is almost 80 percent white. She's on the board of WAND, a women's organization that focuses on reducing the military budget.

She may not win the general election against a tough Republican opponent, but she'll have laid down a marker for what a Democratic congressional candidate should be.

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