Sources: Boozman Will Challenge Lincoln in Arkansas

Posted January 27, 2010 at 4:09pm

Barring a last-minute change of heart, Rep. John Boozman (R) appears set to jump into Arkansas’ Senate race in the coming days.

Sources on Capitol Hill said Wednesday that Boozman, the lone GOP Member of the state’s Congressional delegation, has made it clear that he intends to challenge Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) in November. Boozman already has much of his Senate campaign team in place, and the announcement is expected to take place in Arkansas before the weekend is out.

When asked about a potential Senate bid Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Boozman would only say “nothing has been announced officially.—

By taking on Lincoln, Boozman will attempt to do what his brother, former state Sen. Fay Boozman, could not. Fay Boozman challenged Lincoln in the then-open-seat Senate race in 1998, and John Boozman worked for his brother on that campaign. Fay Boozman lost that race by 13 points.

Boozman talked with National Republican Senatorial Committee officials and other Senate leaders this week in the wake of the firestorm he created last week by openly acknowledging that he was considering making a Senate run.

“This is something that really for the last several weeks I have been thinking about,— Boozman said in an interview on Monday.

At that time the Congressman said he planned to make a final decision on the race by Wednesday or Thursday. To take longer, he said, wouldn’t be fair to the nine other candidates who are already vying for the chance to take on Lincoln in the general election.

“As somebody that’s gone through races, it’s just not fair to these guys who are working hard. They are spending money and they really do want to know where I’m at because that might affect— their electoral plans, he said.

One man whom Boozman’s decision will not affect is state Sen. Gilbert Baker (R) who had been viewed as the frontrunner in the primary before talk of Boozman’s entry into the race erupted Friday. Prompted by talk about Boozman, Baker released a statement Tuesday reiterating his intention to unseat Lincoln in November.

Boozman “has indicated he’s interested in running, and as the only Republican Member of Congress in Arkansas he would likely be seen as the frontrunner,— one Capitol Hill Republican strategist said on Wednesday. “But Gilbert Baker has run a very good campaign. At the end of the day it will be up to the Arkansas primary voters to decide, but both candidates would have the ability to defeat Blanche Lincoln.—

Lincoln is viewed by some Republicans as the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent of the cycle now that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has decided to step down. A poll last week showed the Senator’s approval rating falling back home, and Lincoln could still earn a serious primary challenge from the left from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter (D). But the Senator still had a healthy $5 million war chest at the end of December.

Boozman’s entry into the Senate race would create the third open-seat race of the cycle in Arkansas, leaving Rep. Mike Ross (D) as the only Member of the House delegation running for re-election.

Republican sources in Arkansas view former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R) as the most likely candidate to fill Boozman’s shoes in the conservative northwest Arkansas seat, but Hutchinson’s level of interest is unknown.

After his long career in public service, Hutchinson now works as a lawyer and runs a homeland security consulting group in Arkansas.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.