LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — In an indirect jab at Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln's efforts to distance herself from her national party, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter said Friday he's not running away from the Democratic Party as he challenges her in the primary this spring.
Lincoln in campaign appearances and ads has highlighted her opposition to some of her national party's initiatives on issues such as health care and air pollution regulations.
"I'm proud to be running as a Democrat," Halter told a crowd at the Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus. "I don't run away from that label."
Halter declined to say when asked by reporters later if he believed Lincoln was running away from the Democratic Party.
Lincoln has run television ads around the state touting her opposition to including a government-run public insurance option as part of the health care overhaul. She's also highlighted her opposition "cap-and-trade" climate change legislation in which overall pollution reduction targets are met by allowing facilities to buy and sell pollution credits.
Lincoln voted for the $938 billion health care bill, but was one of three Democrats in the Senate who voted against a companion measure also signed into law.
Speaking at the same forum later, Lincoln highlighted the changes she said will come about through the health care bill, saying it will help thousands in Arkansas.
"Yes, it is an imperfect bill. Every bill we produce is imperfect," she said. "But it's a ten year bill. It gives us plenty of opportunity to make improvements as we move across that spectrum and figure out what works and what doesn't."
Lincoln dismissed the suggestion she was running away from her party's label in the race by pointing out her differences with the Obama administration."
"If I was running from the Democratic Party label, I wouldn't be running in the Democratic primary," Lincoln told reporters after her speech. "I am a Democrat tried and true. I will always be. I will win or lose as a Democrat."
Halter also accused Lincoln of twice supporting a political deal in the health care overhaul that would have benefited Nebraska. Lincoln voted for a Senate version of the health care package that included the deal dubbed the "Cornhusker Kickback" and against a companion measure in the Senate that removed the measure.
"She voted for the Cornhusker Kickback twice," Halter said. "She voted for the Senate bill that included it, and then she voted to keep it in there. It was being stripped out in the reconciliation bill, and by voting against the reconciliation bill, she voted for it twice."
The Senate version of the health care bill that Lincoln voted for on Christmas Eve included a provision that would have required the federal government to permanently pay the entire cost of Medicaid expansion in Nebraska, while only paying the costs of expansion in the other 49 states for three years.
A companion measure approved in the Senate in March stripped that provision. Lincoln along with Arkansas' Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor voted against the companion bill.
Lincoln in January said she believed the special deal should be removed.
"It was not something I supported either time," Lincoln said. "I didn't agree with the fact that it was something the leadership included the first time ...There's always something in bills you don't like. I didn't support it then and I don't support it now."
Lincoln faces a tough re-election bid as she seeks a third term in the Senate. Halter announced this week that he raised more than $2 million in the first month of his bid, while Lincoln's campaign has said she raised more than $1 million during the past three months.
Eight Republicans are seeking the GOP nomination for Lincoln's seat.