This post is a returning to electoral analysis of key races this cycle. Specifically, Alaska. Alaska’s electoral history is extremely short. Since becoming a state in 1959 the “Last Frontier” state has only backed one Democrat for President in 13 elections. In 1964 Johnson won the state in his landslide win over Goldwater. Since that time the state has been a solidly GOP state at the Presidential level.
Beyond being a strong GOP state at the federal level, the state has maintained a strong allegiance to the party at the local and state level. Since becoming a state Alaska has had three GOP senators and four Democratic Senators. But this does not tell the whole story. When one combines all the Congressional sessions a R or D has served from both Senate classes the GOP notches a 2-1 advantage. And since 1973 the state has had in Congress as its lone Representative Don Young, who won in 2008 even while being under federal investigation.
At the state legislative level the GOP has enjoyed a solid advantage since 1994 with the current make being 15D-25R in the state House and 7D-13R in the state Senate. More importantly, since Tony Knowles served his two terms as Governor (94-2002) a Democrat has not been competitive in gubernatorial races.
Despite the state’s obvious GOP lean, it boasts a competitive Senate election this cycle. Senator Mark Begich, son of one term Congressman Nick Begich (who disappeared in a plane crash in 1972) and former mayor of Anchorage is up for his first reelection. The freshman Democrar defeated 6 term incumbent Ted Stevens in 2008. Stevens was indicted on federal criminal charges but after the election the charges were dropped. Begich won the race by just over 1% and barely garnered 47% of the vote. Republicans are salivating at the chance to defeat him this cycle in their quest for a Senate majority.
Despite Begich’s narrow victory and the state’s pronounced GOP lean defeating Begich will not be easy. First off, his mayoralship of Anchorage gives him a personal connection to the largest collection of voters in the state (almost 40% of registered voters). Second, he is sitting on a large sum of cash while his declared opponents, Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, former 2010 Senate candidate Joe Miller and Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, are all reportedly struggling to collect cash (though Sullivan can easily throw personal money into the race). Third, Begich has had more time to meet and greet voters in this sparsely populated state where grassroots campaigning matters. Lastly, despite voting for Obamacare and the Stimulus, Begich has distanced himself from the President on a host of other issues including new EPA regulations and drilling in ANWR.
Republican strategists are smart to counter to that Begich’s connections to the President are not well known. None of his possible opponents have aired ads or really even started campaigning and as such Begich has been able to sail through the earliest part of the race unscathed. National Republicans have made clear they will tie any Senate Democrat to Obamacare but in Alaska that might matter less. Few if any cancelled insurance plans have been reported in the state and the Governor’s and legislature’s decision not to expand Medicaid could galvanize grassroots Democratic voters.
Early polls give the Senator an edge but most are partisan affairs so take them with a grain of salt. A non-partisan survey taken of the race in September (before the shutdown) found that a generic Republican led a generic Democrat 45%-35%. In head to head match-ups Begich led Treadwell 43%-42%, Sullivan 43%-41% and Miller 55%-28%. Not a strong position for an incumbent to be in. Since these polls have been taken the shutdown has ended and the Healthcare law’s unveiling debacle has dominated the airwaves suggesting Begich’s position could have softened since.
Alaska is a fickle state politically and oftentimes does not defeat sitting incumbents. In fact, Obama was the first Democratic candidate for President to crack 40% for the party in 2012 since LBJ. Still, even if the state is becoming slightly more left of center (like North Carolina) it is still a GOP friendly state. Begich has many assets his opponents do not but that does not mean this race is a given for the incumbent.