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The challenge of being Blanche Lincoln in 2009-2010

November 23, 2009 |  3:24 pm

Like one of those Indiana Jones movies -- where each near-death experience is followed by some even more extraordinary feat of derring-do -- the tension only escalates now that Democrats have pushed their healthcare bill to the floor of the Senate.

No one is likely to feel more pressure over the next few weeks than Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln, who waited until virtually the last-minute to announce her support for moving forward with debate -- giving giving Democrats the bare 60 votes needed to avoid a GOP filibuster.

But Lincoln, who faces a tough reelection fight, next year, made it clear her vote Saturday night doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be there with fellow Democrats on final passage. It’s not pretty, the view from the fence where she sits.Arkansas Democrat Senator Blanche Lincoln

As one longtime observer of Arkansas politics put it in Monday’s print story on Lincoln: "She's getting it from both sides.” and other liberal groups are beating her up for opposing the “public option.” Republicans are beating her up for, well, being a Democrat up for reelection.

During a recent interview, Lincoln talked at length about her political situation, the difficulties of running for reelection in 2010 -- at the midterm of President Obama’s first term, historically a time the White House party loses congressional seats -- and what she would like to see in healthcare legislation.

Lincoln sat the end of a long conference table, in what might have once been the parlor of the red-brick Victorian home that serves as her state headquarters. In the background the telephones rang incessantly.

--On healthcare as an all-consuming matter:  “I think by far the biggest issue on people’s minds is the economy. And I think until we do something with healthcare it’s going to suck a lot of out of air out of Washington, when we really need to be focused on the economy and job creation. … Healthcare’s a part of that, but it’s not all there is.”

Lincoln acknowledged a desire to finish up with healthcare, but not just for the sake of pushing the issue off the table: “It’s not as if we just want to do it and get rid of it. … We want to accomplish a greater value in our healthcare dollars, a greater efficiency in our healthcare delivery system.”

--On the so-called “trigger,” that would introduce a public option if insurance companies fail to enact reforms on their own: “I don’t have a problem looking at making sure there’s more pressure on the private industry to be able to provide more options and that hammer -- I prefer to call it a hammer. … There are going to be other options [in] the marketplace. Not necessarily a government-funded option, but nonprofit, perhaps.”

--On the difficult of running in 2010: “I ran for reelection in 1994. Any time you run in the midterm of a new administration, it’s going be this way. … People's expectations have been heightened. You're the first thing between those expectations and results, so it's going to be a tough year.  [Republicans] are going to seize that opportunity.”

--On criticism she’s being wishy-washy, or indecisive as the debate grinds on: “People think you’re supposed to be for or against healthcare reform. Well, it depends what’s in there.”

--Mark Z. Barabak

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Photo: Office of Sen. Lincoln