Democrats Look to Anchorage Mayor
Begich, a popular mayor who won his second three-year term a year ago, is being courted to challenge one or the other of Alaska's longtime Republican incumbents, who have more than 73 years of combined congressional experience. He's the son of the late Rep. Nick Begich (D-Alaska), who died in a 1972 plane crash with the late Rep. Hale Boggs (D-La.), in a remote part of the Frontier State. Begich, now 44, was 10 at the time.
Facing a term limit in the spring of 2009, Begich is in a minor bidding war between the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- which wants him to challenge Rep. Don Young (R), who took his father's seat after the crash -- and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -- seeking a challenger to Sen. Ted Stevens (R), 83, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history.
"He likes to laugh and say a lot of people have decided his future," Julie Hasquet, Begich's spokeswoman, said of the multiple calls the mayor has received this year from senators and House members.
But Democrats need to recognize the tall order of the challenge. Stevens has been enormously popular back home, spreading billions of dollars there in his three decades worth of work on the Appropriations Committee. He won his last election with nearly 80 percent. He had $664,000 in his campaign account on March 31 and he's rapidly adding to that war chest, with fundraisers like a 250-person event last Wednesday in Fairbanks. Stevens will have no trouble raising the millions of dollars necessary to swamp a challenger considering he is the top Republican on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and the ranking minority member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
"We're still actively engaged in getting the campaign going," said Tim McKeever, Stevens' top political aide. "We're moving ahead full steam."
Young, who turns 74 Saturday, is slightly more vulnerable, based on recent performance. He won re-election with 57 percent against a challenger who spent less than $180,000. But a Begich challenge to Young would also require an enormous amount of money, since the incumbent spent more than $1.8 million in the 2006 cycle and STILL had more than $1.9 million in the bank March 31.
That's where the ethical questions come in, as both House and Senate Democrats secretly have their fingers crossed that either of the veterans would face so many allegations that one -- or, dream sequence, both -- would not stand for re-election.
In fact, House Democrats privately admitted that they placed a call to Begich today after a New York Times story questioned a $10 million earmark placed in legislation for a Florida transportation project after a developer held a $40,000 fundraiser for Young. (At the time, Young was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.)
But Senate Democratic strategists also gleefully took note of my story in the Washington Post, in which Stevens acknowledged that federal investigators have asked him to secure records related to their widening corruption inquiry that has already secured indictments of four current and former state legislators and has entangled the senator's son, Ben Stevens, a state senator.
In addition, Roll Call (subscription required) reported an example of Ted Stevens steering earmarks to those close his son, including $2 million that went to study the route for a natural gas pipeline, conducted by a company whose parent corporation paid Ben Stevens nearly $80,000 in recent years as a board member.
It's unclear whether Young, who has ex-staff connected to imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, or Stevens will face enough questions that they would not run for re-election. And neither man has been given official notice that they are officially a "target" or "person of interest" from the Justice Department, official designations used for people who are close to indictment or who are the focus of a probe.
Still, Democrats awoke this morning to see headlines they liked, which just made Begich that much more popular on Capitol Hill. "He's made no decision. He loves being mayor," Hasquet said. "Each day is a new opportunity."
June 7, 2007; 3:08 PM ET
Categories: Ethics and Rules
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