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Obama Coattails in Alaska?

A Democratic-funded poll out of Alaska suggests that Barack Obama's pledge to expand the traditional Electoral College playing field this fall may well find fertile soil in places that haven't seen a competitive presidential race in decades.

John McCain leads Obama 44 percent to 42 percent in Alaska, with Libertarian nominee Bob Barr taking 3 percent, according to the Global Strategy Group survey, which was conducted for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and obtained by The Fix.

(For Senate junkies out there, the poll also showed Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, the likely Democratic nominee, ahead of GOP Sen. Ted Stevens.)

Those numbers are startling on their face and all the more stunning when considering recent presidential elections in the Last Frontier. In 2004, President George W. Bush won 61 percent in Alaska compared with just 35.5 percent for John Kerry. Four years earlier, Bush won 59 percent to 28 percent over Al Gore. The Fix, no math major, was able to divine that the average percentage of the Alaska vote for the Democratic presidential nominee in the last two elections was 31.6 percent.

The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Lyndon Johnson in 1964, who crushed Barry Goldwater 66 percent to 34 percent. Since then, the best showing was Hubert Humphrey 43 percent showing in 1968. No Democrat since then has broken 36 percent of the vote.

Is it possible then -- given that mountain of contrary evidence -- to believe that Obama can carry Alaska in the fall?

Probably not. But Obama's ability to remain within shouting distance in a place like Alaska means other down-ballot Democrats -- Begich in particular -- won't have to run 25 points ahead of their party's presidential nominee in order to win in the fall.

Back in 2004, as Bush was winning the state by 26 points, newly appointed Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) was in a extremely tight race with former governor Tony Knowles. Despite myriad problems with the campaign -- including the shadow of her unpopular father who also happened to be the state's governor -- Murkowski beat Knowles 48.6 percent to 45.5 percent.

Anyone familiar with that race acknowledges that without the Bush-Kerry matchup at the top of the ticket, Knowles might well have won. As it was, he overperformed the Democratic presidential nominee by ten points but still came up short.

This new poll out of Alaska suggests that Begich won't have such a drag from the top of the ticket this time around. And while the poll is particularly relevant to the Last Frontier, there are any number of other Senate races where Obama's strength (even if he ultimately loses) could have a major impact.

In Mississippi, for example, where former governor Ronnie Musgrove (D) is challenging appointed Sen. Roger Wicker (R), if Obama can run somewhere in the mid-40s, he makes Musgrove's task far easier. By comparison, Kerry took 39.8 percent of the vote in the Magnolia State in 2004, and Gore received 40.7 percent in 2000.

Louisiana is another state where a strong Obama -- somewhere in the mid-to-upper 40s -- could do wonders for Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D) chances at reelection.

This is the first time since Landrieu won her seat in 1996 that she will have to run in a presidential year, and past history suggests it could complicate her chances. Kerry took just 42 percent of the vote in the state in 2004, and Gore 45 percent four years earlier. Given that Landrieu has never won with more than 52 percent of the vote, Obama's ability to keep it close in the Bayou State could well be the difference between her winning and her losing.

Keep an eye on how Obama runs in hypothetical general election matchups with McCain in states like Alaska, Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina and Kansas -- all of which will play host to Senate race of varying levels of competitiveness.

Rarely in politics is a narrow loss as good as a win, but if Obama can keep McCain from running up the score in these Republican-friendly states he may well do a world of good for the down-ballot candidates seeking Senate and House posts.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 18, 2008; 2:33 PM ET
Categories:  '08 Endorsement Elite , Eye on 2008 , Senate  
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