'Top Line' -- Can Democrats Avert a Party Civil War?

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: The decision by Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter to launch a Democratic primary challenge against Sen. Blanche Lincoln has been met with cheer among liberal activists, with progressive groups joining with labor unions to quickly line up $5 million in funding commitments for Halter's candidacy.

But will the primary race help the Democratic Party hold on to a Senate seat in a Republican-leaning state this year?

On ABC’s “Top Line” today, one of the activists who helped recruit Halter into the race, Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake.com , argued that a populist Democrat like Halter stands a better chance of winning than a centrist -- Hamsher calls her a “corporatist” because of her ties to big business -- like Lincoln.

“I don’t know if any Democrat can win in Arkansas; it’s a tough year, you know, and Arkansas is moving over into sort of the red zone. But I think if there is any hope it’s Bill Halter,” Hamsher told us.

“Bill Halter has won one state-wide election before. One of the … problems that we were facing in trying to recruit primary challengers to corporatist Democrats, really -- with many of the same challenge-problems that people on the right have -- … is that the people who might credibly challenge them don’t want to give up their existing careers. So we’ve been working for almost a year to pull the groups together that could bring this kind of financial backing.”

“I think Halter stands a better chance against a Republican in a general than Lincoln does at this point,” Hamsher said.

Liberal groups are rallying behind Halter even though they’re not sure of his position on some favored policy areas, such as a public option as part of health care reform, or the pro-unionization bill known as “card-check.”

“Rather than make him swallow a, you know, a loyalty test on issues that really aren’t going to be germane to what he’s fighting, I’m more concerned with things that are going to be coming up that Blanche Lincoln’s going to be voting on, like the student loan bill where she wants to give money that should go to students to Citibank,” she said. “That’s what I care about, and I know he’s good on that.”

Hamsher also said she’s skeptical about whether House leaders will get the votes they need to pass health care reform. She argued that the same kind of pressure that forced Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., to relinquish his post as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee is coming to bear on health care:

“I don’t see it, personally,” she said. “I mean, if you look at what happened to Charles Rangel -- I know that you’ve said he stepped down for the good of the party, but the thing that drove him down was the willingness of 39 freshman and sophomores in vulnerable seats who were signing onto a letter saying you know, we think that you need to take a break from all of this because it’s going to hurt our chances. And that really is what’s driving what’s going on on the Hill right now.”

Also today, we checked in with Jay Newton-Small of Time magazine on the health care push, and Rangel’s decision to step aside.

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