Thursday, August 7, 2008

Alaska Redux: Stevens, Part Deux

Is this Alaska's new Senator?

As I'm going to Alaska this weekend for a two week research trip, I thought I would comment again on Senator Stevens (R-AK).

I read somewhere, perhaps in the Post or the Times, an account suggesting that scandal or not, Stevens might still pull this thing off come November.


I don't think I'm going out on a limb here when I say that the Republicans will lose the Alaska Senate seat unless they get Ted Stevens off the ticket. Then, they'll need to put him in a box and hide him until long after all the ballots are cast just in case.

The fact of the matter is the bribery scandal is the tip of the iceberg for Stevens. The federal investigation into the corruption of Alaska's public officials began in 2006. Stevens' home was raided by the FBI in 2007. Combined with Stevens' age, the investigation probably prompted popular Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich to seriously consider and ultimately decide to launch his campaign against Stevens in early 2008.

The power of incumbency is the ability, first and foremost, to discourage serious, quality challengers from emerging. Incumbency failed for Stevens because he was unable to do that. The scandal and Stevens' age put questions in the minds of voters and the Alaskan political elite: can Stevens continue to be effective at his job? Once he became an issue, and a quality challenger made the decision to take a run at him, the chances of Stevens winning decreased markedly. It is hard to see how he can win while mounting a serious legal challenge against the federal government's case.

Republicans, and Stevens himself if he is still the nominee, will likely pour money into this campaign. While Alaska is a cheap media market, there are only so many ads one can buy. The question becomes where to spend additional money. And, given that Stevens is so well-known, that money is much less likely to be effective. Begich doesn't have to outspend Stevens to be successful--he merely needs to spend ENOUGH money to get his message out and provide an attractive alternative to Stevens. I think he can do both. Begich can even make the argument that Stevens will be less effective in a Democratic-controlled Senate than he would be.

The last two Rasmussen polls show an 8 (July 17th) and 13 (July 30th) point lead for Begich (see here). I just don't see how Stevens can change the dynamic in the race and remove himself as the issue--unless he can unload on Begich with a devastating negative attack that sticks.

At the end of the day, I don't think the question is whether Alaska will have a new Senator come December. The question is, rather, will that Senator be Begich or some other Republican that the party nominates to fill Stevens' place on the ballot.

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