Sabatos Crystal Ball

Alaska Races

Senate Outlook for 2008

Can Democrats Take Advantage of the Turf?

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Alaska

Outlook: Leans Democratic


November 14, 2008 Update:

Ten days after Election Day and still no official winner. Democratic challenger Mark Begich trailed by a few thousand votes on November 5, but as absentee and other uncounted ballots were added to the tally, he now has gained a slight lead. With still over 40,000 ballots to count, Begich leads incumbent Senator Ted Stevens, who was convicted on seven felony counts just weeks before the election.

As of November 14, that lead stands at 814 votes, a slim enough margin that the contest will most likely proceed to a recount. Alaska election officials have stated that the election results will most likely be certified in early December with a recount almost certain to follow.

October 4, 2008 Update:

An overly dramatic Hollywood writer would almost certainly call Ted Stevens re-election campaign “phoenix-esque” after watching his return from ignominy to competitiveness in less than two months. Left for dead after his July 29th indictment, Stevens remained in the race and cruised to an easy August 26 primary victory. After the primary, the Stevens campaign launched an aggressive ad campaign lauding his experience and ability to bring the bacon back to “The Last Frontier.” The surprise elevation of Governor Sarah Palin—who has a frosty relationship with Senator Stevens—as John McCain’s running mate has energized the Alaskan Republican party to the benefit of all downballot candidates. Whether it be Palin fever or simply GOPer coming home to roost, Stevens has surged in the polls from as much as seventeen down to a slim two point deficit to Mark Begich.

Still, Stevens has a McKinley-sized mountain to climb: Stevens will spend the better part of October in a Washington federal court facing charges of concealing more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from Veco CEO Bill Allen. This means that Stevens must campaign in absentia, debating Begich via teleconference and taking the ten hour flight back to Anchorage every weekend. Given this, especially in a Democrat-friendly election cycle like 2008, Begich is still favored. But if Stevens is acquitted of all charges prior to election day (his trial is expected to end by then), don’t be surprised if the unthinkable happens and “Uncle Ted” makes a triumphant return to the Senate.

July 29, 2008 Update:

The sound you just heard was a bombshell hitting the hallowed halls of the Senate. Today, Senator Ted Stevens, icon of Alaska politics, was indicted on seven counts of making false statements in relation to the VECO renovation of his Girdwood house. Barring extraordinary developments, the longest serving member of the world’s most exclusive club will not be returning for another term. Stevens has yet to reveal his future plans, but his options are few.

Alaska’s filing deadline has already passed and its primary is less than a month away; it is too late to recruit a top-tier replacement for the embattled incumbent. Furthermore, the indictments breathe new life into the primary challenges of developer Dave Cuddy and attorney Vic Vickers who can self-fund and have already hit the television airwaves. “Uncle Ted,” the veritable founder of the Alaska Republican Party, may well succumb to the establishment he created.

If Stevens remains in the race and wins the Republican primary, he will be defeated by Anchorage mayor Mark Begich who holds a pre-indictment lead in most polls. Perhaps the best scenario for Alaska Republicans is if Stevens wins the primary, but steps aside (a la Tom Delay in 2006), allowing the state GOP to name a ballot replacement. Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, should he lose his primary challenge to Representative Don Young, seems to be the best replacement option right now with the popularity of the Palin administration breaking from the Alaska politics of old. Even if a credible alternative emerges, Stevens indictment and the woes of the Alaskan GOP will cast a long shadow over the Senatorial race. Regardless of Steven’s future, the events of today prompt the Crystal Ball to switch this race’s rating from Toss Up to Leaning Democrat.

June 17, 2008 Update:

Things are looking as bleak as the Alaskan tundra for incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens. Stevens has still been unable to shake the ethics charges that have been nipping at his heels for months. As a result, Anchorage mayor Mark Begich has made inroads and now leads in polls conducted by a myriad of groups. A poll sponsored by the liberal blog Daily Kos found Begich leading in mid-May by 5 percent, just outside the 4 percent margin of error. A poll conducted at roughly the same time by a Republican-leaning firm had Begich up by 7 percent, again just outside the 6 percent margin of error. Stevens’ unfavorable numbers are creeping north of 40 percent, and with bad news on the legal front, it will be five more months of winter for Stevens between now and the November general election.

May 13, 2008 Update:

Nothing much has changed in the Last Frontier State. The FBI is still sniffing around at Ted Stevens, but has yet to move into an indictment phase, while Anchorage’s Democratic Mayor, Mark Begich, has officially announced his candidacy after several months of exploratory committee limbo. The storyline remains the same: if Stevens is indicted, this seat is very much in play; unless that happens, it should be a Republican hold.

March 3, 2008 Update:

Republican incumbent Ted Stevens is still, somehow, narrowly, holding on. Despite the lengthy federal investigation into possible charges of corruption, Stevens has been able to avoid indictment. Stevens’ record for getting federal funding for Alaska (such as the infamous ”Bridge to Nowhere”) has bought him plenty of goodwill with the people of the Last Frontier State, and odds are an indictment is one of the only blows that could knock him from this seat.

The Democrats have a few blows of their own prepared, though. Ray Metcalfe and Frank Vondersaar both have considerable experience in state-wide campaigns: Metcalfe has run for governor and Alaska’s at-large House seat, while Vondersaar has run for the House seven times now. Metcalfe has been a very vocal critic of Stevens, even providing the FBI and state watchdog agencies with evidence of the incumbent’s alleged corruption. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has announced he’s thinking about running, and has formed an exploratory committee.

This particular collection of Democratic challengers doesn’t look like they’ll be too strong come November. For all of Metcalfe and Vondersaar’s experience, that very well could turn into voter fatigue; time and again, Alaskans haven’t voted for them, and seeing their name on the ballot this time around may not yield any different result. Begich has the advantage of being a relatively fresh face, and has won election in Alaska’s biggest city. However, with his late entry into the race, he may not have time to raise the kind of money he’d need to take down Stevens. As we’ve said before, if Stevens can continue to avoid substantive charges, he should squeak through, into another term.

December 14, 2007 Update:

Who could have believed that a Republican incumbent would be in trouble here? But at least initially, the longest-serving Senate Republican, Ted Stevens, is mired in a major corporate scandal involving pay-offs and bribery. He has not been indicted and may be able to clear himself. He may or may not run again, no matter what he says n
ow. He may or may not be seriously challenged in the GOP primary or the general election. So, on this one, we’ll just have to watch and wait. Based solely on the strength of his past electoral record, we’ll call it, for now, LEANS REPUBLICAN.

September 17, 2007 Update:

With Republican incumbent Ted Stevens still under a federal corruption investigation, the situation in Alaska is impossible to predict. Should Stevens avoid indictment on the corruption charges, he should sail into another reelection fairly easily, unless his health becomes an obstacle. If, however, the feds decide they have enough to indict the Senator, this race will be blown wide open. The Crystal Ball will keep its eyes and ears trained on the Last Frontier State for any developments.


Background

Senator Ted Stevens, an icon of Alaskan politics and champion of pork barrel federal spending, may face an unexpectedly competitive challenge in 2008. His suddenly sour electoral outlook is due, not to his opponents, but instead to an ethics scandal.

Renovations to Stevens’ Anchorage home has become the apparent focus of a federal corruption investigation involving the Veco oil services company. The probe had been thought to primarily target Steven’s son, state senate president Ben Stevens, but an FBI raid of the home caused political watchers nationwide to sit up and take notice.

The DSCC is pinning its hopes on a yet-announced candidate, Democratic Anchorage mayor Mark Begich. Begich would be a big fish to land, but even he would need some help from federal investigators before this race could be called truly competitive.

Republican fiscal conservative groups, most notably the Club for Growth, have begun courting possible primary challengers. These groups have been incensed by Stevens unabashed earmarking and pork-barrel project, including his championing of the most infamous earmark of all, the ”Bridge to Nowhere.” Although they have yet to find any takers for a primary challenge, the list of possible candidates is extensive and will likely only grow if the federal investigation headlines keep up.

Although it would take quite a scandal to unseat this entrenched Alaskan Republican, Alaskan Democrats are hoping for an early Christmas gift to be delivered on Election Day in November 2008. It is impossible to predict what the legal authorities will do, but Stevens is in more trouble than he has ever experienced since his appointment in 1968.

Candidates

Ted Stevens (I) – Republican – current Senator
Website

Mark Begich – Democrat – mayor of Anchorage
Website