It is no secret that I have believed that Bill Halter would be a strong challenger to Blanche Lincoln. Lincoln's weakness in general election match-ups combined with aggravating of the liberal base have left her vulnerable on two key fronts. Now with the primary election only two weeks away and early voting starting in earnest, one question is will Lincoln survive? I do not know the answer to that question. The other query is will Lincoln receive the necessary 50%+1 to escape a runoff with Halter. I think the answer is increasingly no. Why? Well, let's take a look at the trend seen in the only pollster (DKos/Research 2000) to poll the race consistently. The overall trend shows that Lincoln has been pretty much stuck in the middle 40s and Halter slowly rising. However, the more interesting part of the graph is what happened with the other category. Right around the time conservative Democrat D.C. Morrison filed to run, the other category all of a sudden started polling in the mid to high single digits. Normally, the rise of an otherwise unknown third candidate might be scoffed at as nothing more than poll respondents disgusted with negative attacks of the two major candidates going for the third name on the questionnaire. In the 2009 New Jersey gubernatorial election, Independent Chris Daggett did much better in the final aggregate of polling than on election day due most likely to such a phenomenon. The key difference here is that, if the poll is conducted correctly by the interviewers, Morrision's name was not even mentioned by the them ("If the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate were held today, for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Bill Halter and Blanche Lincoln?"). It was the interviewee who without mentioning by the interviewer said some form of "other". That is people knew there was another candidate, and they were actually going to vote for him/her (not just threatening to vote for them). To me, the support for Morrison seems to be real.
Interestingly (but not surprising considering considering he's a conservative), Morrison's support seems to be among whites only.
When we break down the Kos polls by race, we also see that Halter's support among blacks is significantly higher than among the electorate at large. In fact, black voters have preferred Halter to Lincoln in the last few Kos polls. This lead has gotten larger with each successive poll. Why is this important? Blacks are pegged to make up less than than 20% of the Arkansas electorate, but they are also much more undecided at 30%. Of course, with a little less than 70 respondents in the Kos surveys, we should keep in mind that the black subgroup has a much larger margin of error. That said, because black support for Halter has risen in every poll, it seems to be indicative of a real trend. Why else would Barack Obama (who is NOT beloved in Arkansas, but has a 91% favorable rating among Arkansan blacks) and Bill Clinton (loved by Arkansan blacks) be cutting ads for Lincoln? In the olden days, the fact that Lincoln is stuck in the mid 40's would mean she was not going to rise any further. Thus, Halter's rise and Lincoln fall would continue, and Halter would pick up the majority of remaining undecideds. Caution prevails though as such a trend did not occur in the Illinois Democratic Gubernatorial primary (and I was BURNED by it). Unfortunately for Lincoln, even if undecideds did not break as previous undecideds and instead voted as the rest of the electorate as a whole, Lincoln will just escape the runoff with about 50.5% of the vote.
Still, with Lincoln's support falling and being right on the edge of a runoff, I'm thinking a runoff is probable.
Note: Thanks to the Mark Blumenthal for polling advice.