(CNN) – Even though his upstart Democratic primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln has been powered by union support, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter was coy Sunday when asked about his union backing and the Employee Free Choice Act (or “card check” bill), a piece of legislation backed by some of the country’s largest and most influential unions.
Halter has the been the beneficiary of unions’ ire directed at Lincoln for her failure to support passage of the card check bill and for her decision not to support a public insurance option as part of Democrats’ health care bill. Unions favor the card check bill because they believe it will make it easier for workers to unionize and, for many years, unions have been concerned about the rising costs of health care because of the role those costs have played in their collective bargaining with employers.
Lincoln and former President Bill Clinton, who backs the incumbent senator, have criticized the union involvement in Arkansas’ politics – involvement that has included millions of dollars in advertising buys, a flood of mail pieces, and aggressive canvassing efforts all intended to take down Lincoln.
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Asked by CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley about the union involvement and the criticism it has received, Halter called the topic a “diversion from the real issues” in his race against Lincoln.
“The real issue in this race is who’s going to stand up for middle class Arkansas families,” Halter said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Halter added, “Now I know that the national media wants to put this into a left-right framework because that’s a very simple thing to pull down. But really what’s going on in the state is very different from that.”
“ . . . And, so, this whole left-right framework candidly – if you went down the street here in Arkansas and ask folks about it, they’re not going to tell you that, that’s what the race is about.”
Asked whether he supports passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, Halter chose instead to delineate a set of principles he backs.
“I’ve said very clearly the principles I support when it comes to this legislation,” he told Crowley, “which is to have democratic [union] elections, to have them be [by] secret ballot, to have [the elections] sped up and to increase the penalties for either side if they attempt to coerce workers.”
“Card check itself, Candy, if you talk to the labor leadership itself, they’ll tell you they’re not even seeking a vote on that legislation.”
Asked again by Crowley whether he would support the Employee Free Choice Act, Halter reiterated his earlier answer.
“I’ve given you the principles that I will support,” he said.
Halter added, “The old card check provision is no longer on the table and I have that directly from the folks who are involved in the negotiations.”
In Arkansas’ May 18 Senate Democratic primary, Lincoln secured 44 percent of the vote to Halter’s 42 percent while a third candidate garnered 13 percent of the ballots cast.
Because no one exceeded the 50 percent threshold, Lincoln and Halter have continued to square off for primary runoff election Tuesday. The Lincoln-Halter race is being closely watched by political observers as another possible indicator, should Halter prove victorious, of the public’s anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, anti-establishment mood during this midterm election year.