Washington (CNN) - An impassioned Bill Clinton campaigned for Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s re-election on Friday, telling voters the Democrat “has worked her heart out” on behalf of Arkansas in the Senate.
And, using very harsh words, Clinton accused national labor unions campaigning for Lincoln’s opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, of trying to manipulate Arkansas voters to “terrify” other Democrats in Congress into cowering to union demands.
Clinton appeared at an event at a historically black college in Little Rock with Lincoln. The two-term senator is locked in a tight run-off with Halter for the Democratic Senate nomination after neither candidate cracked the 50-percent mark in a May 18 primary.
The run-off will be held June 8.
At the Little Rock event, Clinton praised Lincoln while training his fire at labor unions that have poured money and manpower into the race to help Halter.
Reading from a Washington Post article that quoted a national labor union leader saying that forcing Lincoln to “fight this kind of fight” might make other senators “think twice about it,” Clinton said that national labor unions had decided to make Lincoln “the poster child for what happens when a Democrat crosses them.”
“In other words, this is about using you and manipulating your votes to terrify members of Congress and members of the Senate from other states,” Clinton told the crowd. “Now if you want to be used that way, have at it.”
The 42nd president continued to rip labor unions, which have largely supported him in the past.
“They admit here, they don’t necessarily favor her opponent. They want to make her a poster child. They want you to be something besides a voter for your children and your community and your future. They want you to help them make a poster,” Clinton said.
“If you want to do that, go back to grade school,” he added.
“If you want to be Arkansas’ advocate, vote for somebody who will fight for you. Vote for Blanche Lincoln,” he added.
Clinton summed up the tough tactics from unions as “Washington games.”
“That’s what happens up there. People get all caught up in their little games and they turn you into a cartoon instead of a real person and they perform reverse plastic surgery on you. Even if you’re as pretty as Blanche, they can make you ugly. That’s what they do. It’s all a game. This is not a game, this is your life,” the former president said emphatically.
When Lincoln took the stage, she echoed the same harsh charges.
“This isn’t about me. It’s not about Bill Halter,” Lincoln said. “It is about the people of our state and whether we’re going to allow our vote to be bought – bought or misconstrued.”
Saying that she “stood up to the D.C. unions,” Lincoln went on to say, “This campaign, unfortunately, has become about something that is not Arkansas. This campaign has become about proving a point. Proving a point and using me as the pawn. And not just me, as President Clinton said, you as well.”
“Well, I got to tell you folks, my vote in Washington has never been for sale. And yours shouldn’t be either,” Lincoln added.
Many of the labor unions that are trying to defeat Lincoln now have supported her in the past. Among the issues labor unions cite her opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, which unions strongly support. The measure would make it easier for workers to form unions.
Alan Hughes, president of the Arkansas chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) blasted any notion that the national arms of the labor groups mandated a decision to oppose Lincoln.
“We’ve made those decisions, our union members here in Arkansas made those endorsements and sent those endorsements to the national level,” Hughes said.
“They felt like they’ve been talking to a deaf ear,” he said, charging that Lincoln is not sufficiently listening to union members. “This is not about making a poster child out of no one. We’re serious about this. We’re serious, we don’t believe that Senator Lincoln is listening to working families and their needs.”
Hughes also knocked down the notion that labor groups are trying to scare Washington Democrats into cowering in the face of their demands.
“It’s about workers having a voice,” Hughes told CNN. “This is not about intimidating anybody, any congressman, any senators.” Hughes cites Lincoln’s voting record as a reason for union workers to oppose her.
As for being at odds with Clinton, whom labor groups supported so often in the past, Hughes said, “Well, Bill Clinton had made a commitment to Senator Lincoln before Bill Halter got in there, about supporting her. And I figure he’s carrying that out, his commitment.”
Halter’s campaign echoed that sentiment. In a statement, Communications Director Laura Chapin said, "We respect that the president is honoring a commitment he made quite some time ago before Bill Halter entered the race.”