Monday, July 28, 2008

Alaska U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Alaska U.S. Senate

July 28, 2008

99 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Eighty-four years old and the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate, Ted Stevens has grown accustomed to being easily reelected. This year will be quite different. If Stevens hangs on, it might be by the skin of his teeth, and he would likely owe it all to his legendary status in the state and the built in edge that Republicans have in the state of Alaska.

Polls are currently showing that Stevens and his longtime Alaska colleague, Congressman Don Young are in serious trouble in this election year. In the case of both, there is a perception that the two senior citizen lawmakers have become creatures of Washington and represent what is wrong with the culture of Washington. In Stevens' case, there is also the matter of his home having been searched by the FBI and the belief that he is a target of a federal corruption investigation. One of the two will probably lose this year, (assuming they both make it to the general election), but Stevens may stand a little bit of a better chance of pulling it out. In fact, Young is much more likely to be defeated in a late August Republican primary, while Stevens will likely win his, although he faces several opponents, including a financially credible former State Representative named Dave Cuddy.

The Democrat field has a few candidates too, but the almost certain nominee is the Mayor of Anchorage, the state's largest city, Mark Begich. He happens to be the son of the state's former Congressman, whose airplane was never found in 1972. (Stevens himself was in an Alaska airplane crash six years later, which took the life of his first wife.) The recruitment of Begich into the race to face the once seemingly invincible incumbent was quite a coup for Democrats. For a few months, polls have shown the two in a dead heat, but the most recent poll, from Rasmussen, now has Begich ahead 50-41, indicating that Stevens could be in serious danger. It is probably best to be somewhat cautious though and see if other polls confirm such a signficant lead for Begich. The previous polls had see-sawed back and forth between the two candidates. The voters in the state may be ready for a "change ", but might also be reluctant to oust such a legendary Alaskan and influential player in the Capitol.

In discussing Alaska politics, it is worth remembering that on Election Day, Democrats typically run about five points behind what the final pre-election polls say. The party thought it had a chance to pick up a Senate seat in 2004, one in which a popular former Governor led in polls throughout the year, only to fall several points short on Election Day. That same former Governor sought his old job back in 2006 and also underperformed the polls in losing to Sarah Palin, who is now the very popular Governor of the state, and a grassroots favorite for Vice President of many conservatives.While Palin is seen as part of the "new guard" of the Alaska GOP and has been vocal in supporting a candidate to replace Don Young in the House primary, Stevens may need her assistance and campainging in what will be his toughest reelection fight. The extent to which Palin is prepared to put her political capital on the line could be quite pivotal.

While current polls show that the Presidential race is closer in Alaska than have typically been the case, the issues on which the campaign will unfold could benefit the incumbent. Indeed one of the reasons why John McCain has underperformed in Alaska might be attributed to his long-standing opposition to drilling for oil in ANWR. Exploring for energy sources is a very popular issue in Alaska and the prickly Stevens has long been one of its biggest proponents, while being constantly frustrated over the years in the ability to bring it to fruition. High gas prices though have brought about much increased support for ANWR exploration and while Begich is in favor of it, Stevens' best bet of winning this election might be to tie Begich to the national Democrats, who control Congress, Barack Obama, and the opposition that they and their liberal allies have against the plan. In fact, if McCain were to reverse his position on ANWR, it would obviously help him in the state and would help Stevens and Young (or the eventual House Republican nominee) as well.

I am certainly taking a big gamble in classifying this race as "Leans Republican." If future polls confirm the most recent one, the classification will not be the case. I just think that Alaskans, who depend so much on the federal government and the influence of its veteran Members of Congress in Washington to bring home federal dollars will give many pause on dumping Stevens. In fact, if Young is dumped in the Republican primary, that could be very good news for Stevens, as his seniority might be even more important. Still, the Senator's age works against him, as does the fact that Republicans are no longer in the Congressional majority. The race will mostly be a referendum on Stevens and he will need to raise some doubts about Begich and his party association as well. Needless to say, Stevens will also have to work to reassure voters that he is not on the verge of being indicted.

Leading up to Election Day, Begich may have a lead of 4 points or so and still come up short, as other Alaska Democrats have in the past. This race will clearly be a big test for the fabled Alaska GOP institutional advantage in the Last Frontier.

Stevens campaign link:

2008 U.S. Senate races predicted: 0 D, 2 R
Predicted Senate balance of power thus far: 39 D, 28 R


At 12:26 PM, Blogger Corey said...

Well gee, I just read that Ted Stevens has been indicted.

Talk about timing... Were the Feds waiting for me to do my Race of the Day in Alaska?

It looks like Republicans need to find a way to get Stevens out of this race or have some sort of replacement candidate. That will make it a whole lot eaier to keep this seat.

At 7:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"(Expect all sorts of horrible puns on a daily basis.)"

I rarely if ever blog post anymore (and I don't even read them as much), but it is beginning to look more likely that Stevens will be baked Alaska this fall.

Oh for the days when Al Gonzales and Co. made sure that only Democrats got into legal trouble! (snark)


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