Arkansas Senate candidate finds that support sometimes has ulterior motive

A crucial set of elections is taking place from California to Maine, with much attention on a Senate runoff in Arkansas.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

LITTLE ROCK -- Jeffery Speak warmed the heart of a weary candidate when he told Lt. Gov. Bill Halter that he had voted for him in last month's Democratic Senate primary and would do so again in Tuesday's runoff.

Halter smiled, thanked him and moved on to the next table at Pancho's, a Mexican restaurant in West Memphis, two hours northeast of Little Rock. But Speak's reasons for his vote carry competing messages for the hard-charging Democrat.

"I've never been a fan of Blanche Lincoln. I think she's out of touch. I don't like the way she votes," said Speak, who thinks Lincoln, the incumbent, focuses too much on farmers and was wrong to support the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Speak usually votes a straight Republican ticket, and so "I want to get someone in there who I think the Republican has a better chance of beating" in November. That's Rep. John Boozman (R).

Speak does, however, represent the key group of voters Halter wooed with an aggressive campaign pitch focused on middle-class frustration with Washington.

At 49, Speak says, "I feel 70."

He returned to school after his lighting-fixture company lost business to overseas manufacturers and is now a hospital nurse in Jonesboro.

"When we needed a bailout, where was it? I worked my whole life in that business," said Speak, who said he is struggling to make his mortgage payments but has received no relief from his bank. "I want to stay in my house. I'm not a deadbeat. I work."

Speak said there is a "strong possibility" that he will vote for Boozman in November, then added: "But I'm kind of changing."

-- Peter Slevin

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