In Arkansas, Blance Lincoln held on to win, which was a remarkable achievement given that she was considered finished a few months ago. But it may be only a temporary reprieve. Labor unions are going to continue working against her. They’ve had a very good night, securing the victory in Pennsylvania’s 12th district and nearly defeating a powerful incumbent in Arkansas. Their efforts in the June 8 runoff will serve to advertise the message by the AFL-CIO’s new leader, Richard Trumka, that Democrats can’t take labor’s support for granted. Adding injury to Lincoln’s night, the derivatives legislation she championed—and that some analysts believe helped her win back some Democratic voter support—looked like it was being shredded by fellow Democrats in the Senate.
The night showed just how limited Obama’s political power is. He said he’d work all-out for Specter, but he didn’t campaign for him in the final days. That may have been a wise reservation of his political capital (he’s already been ineffective in previous races), but it also demonstrated how much has changed since 2008, when Obama was talked about as a force that could remake the political landscape. Critz won by running away from Obama’s signature achievement, and Lincoln, who he supported, was forced into a runoff. For a president who is still far more popular than the Democratic Congress he aims to help, yet is unable to translate much of that popularity to do so, this condition may be best described as limbo.