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Bill Clinton rips left in Arkansas race


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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Former President Bill Clinton returned to his home state Friday to help a beleaguered ally and delivered a broadside against some of the most powerful interests in the Democratic Party.

Using unusually vivid language to describe the threat against Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Clinton urged the voters who nurtured his career to resist outside forces bent on making an example out of the two-term Democratic incumbent.

He pounded the podium with Lincoln at his side, warning that national liberal and labor groups wanted to make her a “poster child” in the June 8 Senate run-off to send a message about what happens to Democrats who don’t toe the party line.

“This is about using you and manipulating your votes to terrify members of Congress and members of the Senate,” Clinton said in the gym of a small historically black college here.

Clinton didn’t mention Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s name – the lieutenant governor worked in the former president’s administration – or single out any specific liberal groups. But he didn’t need to.

Halter, who held the incumbent to under 50 percent in the May 18 primary election, has been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in advertising from liberal groups and unions angry with Lincoln over her hesitance to support labor organizing legislation and ties to the business community.

It’s a clash that pits the ascendant forces of the progressive left against a centrist Southern Democrat cut from Clinton’s own Democratic Leadership Council mold, a proxy fight that the former president and longtime Arkansas governor sought to underscore by noting that Lincoln’s “opponent is not her opponent.”

The tension between the two competing models surfaced early Friday, even before Clinton took to the stage, when the AFL-CIO lobbed a pre-emptive strike.

"Bill Clinton and Blanche Lincoln took us in the wrong direction when they supported NAFTA," said spokesman Eddie Vale in an email to reporters. "They sent thousands of Arkansas jobs to Mexico and Canada, and yet they’re still bragging about their support of the job-killing deal. When it comes to protecting and creating jobs in Arkansas, they just don’t get it."

Yet even though he lives in New York now, Clinton, who was governor here for 12 years, sought to prove he still knows how to reach Arkansans. Playing on both local pride and a wariness of outside influence, he suggested voters would be mere pawns for an agenda of party purification if they opposed Lincoln.

“If you want to be used that way, have at it,’ he said to about 200 Democrats at Philander Smith College, speaking without notes for 20 minutes

With a detailed recitation of Lincoln’s work on behalf of Arkansas down to the jobs she saved at a manufacturer in Ft. Smith, Clinton exhorted voters to not direct their discontent at her.

"If you want somebody to channel your anger, don't vote for her," Clinton said. "If you want somebody to get up and go to work and change your life for the better, you should vote for her."

Bill Clinton versus the labor unions? We live in strange times...
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