Arkansas Race May Impact Democrats' Regional Influence Senate Battle in President Clinton's Backyard Could Highlight Continuing Shift from His Party to the GOP

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Politics' best bargain, and one of the important races this year, lies in the heart of Clinton country.In a state where a mere $4 million can set records for election spending, the contest for an open US Senate seat is sure to be a testing ground for issues and tactics that could resurface in 2000.But more important, say some political analysts, is whether one of the last dyed-in-the-wool Democratic states in the South will fully and finally capitulate to the Republican Revolution."Republicans have been picking up speed... all through the 1990s," says Robert Savage, a political scientist at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. "For years, Arkansas was a no-party state. Democrats were in every office, but those days are gone.... Everyone will look at this race to see where the trends lie in 2000."Democrats and Republicans are lining up to make an all-out blitz for the US Senate seat left open by retiring Democratic Sen. Dale Bumpers. The race, between Blanche Lincoln, one of the new breed of moderate "New Democrats," and Fay Boozman, an ultraconservative Republican, is being seen as a pivotal stand for Democrats in Arkansas.Losing power?It wasn't until 1996 that then- Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) became governor when Jim Guy Tucker was convicted in the wake of Whitewater indictments. That same year, Arkansas elected Tim Hutchinson, its first Republican senator since Reconstruction.The Democrats don't want to lose another big political office, and they're prepared to pour in millions of dollars to ensure it doesn't happen. The Republicans, sensing an opportunity, are willing to spend the big bucks, too. And in the end, the $4 million both candidates are expected to spend would outstrip the previous high in state election spending by more than $800,000.And while Senate races in South Carolina and Kentucky are also important for both parties, it's Arkansas that has the unique campaign. The state is being looked at as a test market for revolutionary ideas for Republicans and an opportunity to introduce moderate liberals to the New Democrats. Dr. Boozman and Ms. Lincoln fit the profiles perfectly.Critical race "Of all these contestant elections, this is one of the best races in the country," said Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network. …