The Long Shot
Nowadays she's the Honorable Gentlewoman from Arkansas. Lincoln, a Democrat, defeated Republican Fay Boozman in that 1998 election and has gone on to earn a reputation as a savvy political tactician. Though she crossed party lines to vote in favor of President Bush's tax-cut package, she has steered clear of controversy, focusing instead on bread-and-butter. She helped pass legislation calling for tougher federal car-seat tests and fought for $1.1 million in federal funds to build a pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River. "She's turned out to be a very solid senator," says Charles Cook, the respected founder of the Cook Political Report. "She's not controversial. She hasn't made a lot of the youthful mistakes that a lot of the younger players make when they're on the national stage for the first time. In a business dominated by middle-aged white guys, she brings a new perspective."
At the same time, Lincoln has successfully juggled her Senate duties with a hectic home life—she and her husband, Steve Lincoln, 42, an obstetrician and gynecologist, have 5-year-old twin sons, Reece and Bennett. "The most important thing to me was to have a family," says Lincoln. "I always knew there would be filler. I just didn't know that my filler would be the Senate."
Lincoln's family goes back seven generations in Arkansas. She grew up one of four siblings in the predominantly black Mississippi Delta town of Helena, where her father, Jordan Lambert, now 74 and retired, was a farmer and her mother, Martha, 72, is a homemaker. (Blanche's sister Ann, 47, a retired schoolteacher, and brother Jordan, 44, a farmer, have stayed in Helena. Sister Mary, 50, is a Hollywood director whose credits include the 1989 film Pet Sematary.)
Blanche attended Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Va., and spent one semester studying art in London. After graduating in 1982, she took a job as an intern at Sotheby's auction house in New York City. Tired of trying to make ends meet in America's most expensive city, Lincoln soon moved to Washington, D.C., where over a period of 10 years she worked in a Laura Ashley store, as a receptionist in the office of Arkansas Rep. Bill Alexander and as a lobbyist for various groups. Over lunch with a friend one day, she talked about wanting a new challenge. "I liked what I was doing, but what was the significance of it?" she says. "For me, it was a search for what to do with my talents." Her bold decision: take on Alexander, her former boss.
Her one concern was that the chaos of campaigning in Arkansas would scare off her new beau, Steve Lincoln, then teaching in Louisville, Ky. To her relief, "he hung in there with me every step of the way," says Lincoln, who married him in Helena in 1993. Her grassroots campaign, funded mainly by family and friends, went nowhere until she caught a lucky break: the news that Alexander had run up overdrafts of $208,546 at the House bank. Lincoln made the most of the ensuing outcry. "I'll promise you one thing," she declared. "I can sure enough balance my checkbook!" She won easily and then whipped her Republican opponent, Terry Hayes, in November.
She won another term in 1994, but when she was getting ready to run again in 1996, she discovered she was pregnant. Concerned for her and the babies' health—she was carrying twins—Lincoln knew immediately what to do: Skip the election. "In Arkansas, you're out in the heat in July, riding horses in parades," she says of campaigning. "It was absolutely the right thing to do."
The birth of the twins in 1996 kept her busy. She was still pondering her future when, two years later, Arkansas Sen. Dale Bumpers announced his retirement. Lincoln entered the race and comfortably beat several Democratic opponents in the primary on her way to winning the general election against Boozman.
These days both she and Steve, who now practices in Fairfax, Va., are home most evenings in North Arlington, Va., by 6:30. "She's a senator by day and a mom by night," says political journalist Cook. "She's not somebody that you see on Hardball and Crossfire every night, because she's got another life." It is a difficult balancing act, but, says Lincoln, a doable one. Her philosophy? "You can have it all," she says. "You just can't have it all in one sitting."
Robin Reid in Washington, D.C., Gabrielle Cosgriff in Little Rock