Begich Explores -- Another Senate Seat in Play?
Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) announced this afternoon that he has formed an exploratory committee to consider a run against Sen. Ted Stevens (R) this fall, a decision that virtually ensures Alaska will play host to a competitive statewide race this fall.
"[Politicians] have a lot of opinions about what we think, but that is part of the frustration with Alaskans," said Begich in a conversation with The Fix shortly after announcing his intentions. "I want to make sure everyone gets heard."
By setting up an exploratory committee, Begich can begin raising money and conducting some campaign-related activities without becoming a full-blown candidate just yet. He also can create the impression that he is on a listening tour of the state (a la Hillary Clinton during the runup to her 2000 Senate bid) and, if and when he announces, credit it to an outpouring of support from Alaskans.
Begich said he would move quickly to decide whether or not to run; "I will definitely decide far in advance of June 1," he said, referring to the state's federal filing deadline.
The strong sentiment among state and national Democrats is that Begich will ultimately make the race. And, if he does, this race should be a barn burner.
Let's start with Begich. He carries a well-regarded and well-known last name in the Last Frontier (his father served in Congress before being killed in a plane crash that also took the life of then Rep. Hale Boggs). He also has a political base in Anchorage -- the state's largest city -- where he has served as mayor since 2003.
Because of those two factors, it's not likely Begich would face any serious primary competition, meaning that the national party can get involved very early on to help the candidate get off the ground organizationally and financially. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has made no secret of the fact that it pines for a Begich candidacy and believes he is the only Democrat who can beat Stevens.
"Mark Begich has an outstanding record as mayor, and should he take the next step to become a candidate, we think he'll run a great race and ultimately be a great senator," said DSCC communications director Matt Miller following the Begich announcement.
The other reason this race is likely to be competitive is because of the ongoing problems with the Republican party in the state -- problems that have crept ever closer to Stevens's doorstep.
Stevens told the Post's Paul Kane in June that federal officials had asked him to preserve records relating to an ongoing federal investigation into a pay-to-play scandal that has ensnared Stevens's son as well as a number of Republican party officials. Less than two months later, federal investigators raided Stevens's Alaska home in connection with the inquiry.
The investigation, which has empaneled grand juries in Alaska and Washington, is continuing with no one entirely certain whether Ted Stevens will be further imperiled by the federal investigation or exonerated.
And, even within the Republican party, it appears as though the pay-to-play lobbying scandal has created an environment for change. In 2006, Gov. Frank Murkowski -- widely associated with the old Republican guard in the state -- was crushed in a primary by little known Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin who ran as a reformer and called for a house cleaning in the state GOP. (The Fix sat down with Palin earlier this week.)
It would be a mistake to directly equate Murkowski's defeat with Stevens's situation, however. Murkowski was widely disliked, even by many within his own party. Stevens, on the other hand, is known as "Uncle Ted" by most Alaskans -- an appellation that speaks to his saint-like status in the state. He has held a Senate seat in Alaska since 1968 and is -- to borrow a phrase from "The Shawshank Redemption" -- "a man who knows how to get things." Stevens has been bringing back money to Alaska for the majority of his four decades in Washington and is likely to paint ousting him a major blow to the state's influence in the nation's capital.
In a statement released by his campaign after Begich's announcement, Stevens did just that. "Alaska is a small state which is a long way from Washington," he said. "We need a Senator who knows Alaska and Washington and who has the experience and clout to be able to protect our state from day one."
That sentiment was echoed by National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director Rebecca Fisher. "Senator Stevens is a rock star in Alaska and we are confident his constituents will return him to Washington," she said.
Recent polling in the race suggests that the scandals have taken a toll on Stevens, however. A Research 2000 poll conducted for the liberal blog Daily Kos put Begich at 47 percent to 41 percent for Stevens.
Privately, Republicans acknowledge that a Begich candidacy, coupled with the ongoing federal probe, virtually ensures that Stevens will face his toughest re-election race to date. But, they argue, the demographics of the state heavily favor Republicans and should be enough to push Stevens over the finish line -- assuming no other news breaks in relation to the federal investigation.
The closest federal race in recent memory in Alaska came in 2004 when former governor Tony Knowles (D) challenged appointed Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) who had been chosen for the post by her father upon his ascension to the governorship. The race was a major focus of both national parties and Murkowski's struggled to escape her father's rising unpopularity and charges of nepotism. In the end, however, the state's Republican tilt took over as Murkowski beat Knowles, 49 percent to 46 percent.
Begich is clearly aware of the challenge in running as a Democrat in a state Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) received just 36 percent of the vote in 2004. He spoke of the "common thread" that bonds all people together -- regardless of party. "Everyone has it, we just have to find it," said Begich.
How does Begich's announcement affect Alaska's ranking on the Senate Line? Make sure to check this space on Friday morning to find out.
February 27, 2008; 5:20 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: Winners and Losers: The Democratic Debate
Next: Bobby Bright and The Question of Obama's Coattails
Posted by: xenprgcd rfzawkuo | April 16, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: patrickkreilly | February 28, 2008 4:24 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: caribis | February 28, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: drindl | February 28, 2008 10:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: bsimon | February 28, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: judgeccrater | February 28, 2008 8:56 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jimd52 | February 28, 2008 8:55 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: novamatt | February 28, 2008 7:41 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: fred_flintstone | February 28, 2008 2:32 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: AverageJane | February 28, 2008 1:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: jonathanmstevens | February 28, 2008 12:36 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: viola061985 | February 27, 2008 9:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: GoHuskies2004 | February 27, 2008 9:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: cbl-pdx | February 27, 2008 8:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: wpost4112 | February 27, 2008 7:42 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: markwaor | February 27, 2008 7:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: brokenglassdemocrat | February 27, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: thebobbob | February 27, 2008 6:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: anthonyjbrady | February 27, 2008 6:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Spectator2 | February 27, 2008 6:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: thecrisis | February 27, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.