One thing that’s clear the moment you step foot in Alaska is that President Obama is not an especially popular guy. Turn on the TV and there are commercials — nonstop, considering the high-stakes Senate race this year and the primary coming up on Aug. 19 — telling us which candidates will unhesitatingly stand up to Obama.
Another thing is how unpopular, if not irrelevant, Sarah Palin has become. And you hear that from Republicans as well as Democrats. So every time you hear a rumor that she is considering a run for public office in Alaska, you should know to dismiss it immediately. She doesn’t want to represent them anymore than they want to be represented by her. Once, she had the highest approval ratings of any governor in the country. That was a long time ago.
But back to the Senate race. It’s no surprise that the three Republican candidates hoping to take on Sen. Mark Begich (D) are anti-Obama. The president lost the state to Mitt Romney by 14 points. His numbers in the state are awful. And, for good measure, no Democratic presidential candidate has carried Alaska since LBJ in 1964.
So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Democrat Begich is also running commercials touting his disagreements with Obama. He fights him on guns. On oil drilling. “I don’t take no for an answer,” he says in one commercial, over his conflicts with the administration.
It’s his best bet for re-election. Once, lawmakers were sent to Washington to bring home the bacon. And no one did it better than Ted Stevens (R), whose 40 years in the Senate ended in 2008 following a conviction on ethics charges (later dismissed) and his narrow defeat to Begich. But with Stevens dead and the practice of earmarks even deader, Begich’s path to a second term lies in his ability to convince voters that he is an independent voice — at a time the Democratic brand is suffering in much of the country, especially in Alaska.
His Republican rivals may be helping his cause too. The battle among Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller and former state natural resources commissioner Dan Sullivan, the ostensible choice of the establishment, is nasty and personal. Sullivan is an “interloper,” not a “true” Alaskan, his opponents say. He was born in Ohio and while he moved to Alaska in 1997, he spent many years in Washington working in the Bush State Department under Condoleezza Rice. Treadwell says, “I’ve got a jar of mayonnaise in my refrigerator that’s been there longer than Dan Sullivan’s been in Alaska.”
Critics say that Treadwell is all about ambition, that he started running for the Senate the moment he was elected lieutenant governor in 2010. He has failed to raise the kind of money that Sullivan (or Begich) has. And as for Miller, he is seen by a considerable segment of the party as too far to the right to win in November. Many still resent his primary campaign against Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010. While there are far more Republicans than Democrats in Alaska, there are even more independents — and the complaint about Miller is that he doesn’t have the ability to win them over.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Miller has not ruled out running as an independent or third-party candidate in the general election should he lose the Aug. 19 primary, as the polls indicate he will. In a close race, that could assure Begich a second term. In 2008, when Begich ran 3,953 votes ahead of Stevens, Alaska Independence Party candidate Bob Bird was getting more than 13,000 votes.
But GOP disunity is not a new thing in Alaska. Miller took on Murkowski in the 2010 primary and, to everyone’s surprise, defeated her. Then she decided to keep her seat via a write-in effort, which succeeded. The wounds from that primary have yet to heal.
Plus, Frank Murkowski, Lisa’s father — who served in the Senate for four terms before getting elected governor (and who appointed his daughter to succeed him in the Senate) — turned out to be an extremely unpopular governor, even within his own party … which led to his ouster in the 2006 primary by Sarah Palin.
Republicans eating their own is not unusual in the state.
Sen. Begich remains vulnerable, and Republicans continue to count the seat as one of the ones they must win if they are to take over the Senate this year. But they won’t if their internecine feuds refuse to go away.
Political Junkie Roadshow. The July 11 event in Fairbanks, Alaska featuring Neal Conan and me was a huge success! Standing room only, with many people having to be turned away at the door. A special thanks to Lisa Bartlett and her summer sessions crew at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks for putting this event together. Also a shout out to Lori Neufeld and the people at member station KUAC.
Buttons. Try as I did, I failed to come up with an item that’s featured on my want list — a picture button from Sarah Palin’s unsuccessful bid for lt. gov. in 2002. But I did find these beauties from #49:
Georgia runoff. Republicans choose their Senate nominee today (July 22) for the seat being vacated by two-term GOP incumbent Saxby Chambliss, who is retiring. The runoff pits David Perdue, a businessman and first-time candidate who finished first in the May primary, and Rep. Jack Kingston, who has been in Congress for 11 terms. Both are conservatives, of course, though not nearly as conservative as some of the other candidates who failed to advance past the initial primary, such as Reps. Paul Broun or Phil Gingrey. But because there is so little daylight between them on ideological issues, they have gone after each other on personal terms, Perdue saying that Kingston is a career politician and Kingston calling Perdue a closet liberal.
Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in Georgia since Zell Miller in 2000. But they have a potentially strong candidate in Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former four-term Sen. (1972-96) Sam Nunn, who has a healthy campaign bank account and who is running as a centrist.
There are also primary runoffs in three congressional districts where Republican incumbents are departing and where the winners today are heavily favored in the fall. In the 1st CD (Savannah), which Kingston is vacating, state Sen. Buddy Carter faces tea party backed surgeon Bob Johnson. In the 10th CD, being given up by Broun, it’s conservative talk radio host Jody Hice vs. businessman Mike Collins, son of ex-Rep. Mac Collins. And in Gingrey’s 11th CD, state Sen. Barry Loudermilk, backed by the tea party, is up against a comebacking Bob Barr, the former congressman best remembered for helping lead President Clinton’s impeachment effort in the 1990s.
Polls close at 7pm Eastern.
Meanwhile, here’s a quick catching up of some things that happened while we were observing whales in Alaska:
House results. Several congressional districts in Alabama and North Carolina held primary runoffs on July 15. The two most consequential: In Ala. 06, conservative activist Gary Palmer stunned state Rep. Paul DeMarco in the GOP runoff by a 62-38% margin. DeMarco led in the June 3 primary but Palmer, with a big financial boost from the Club for Growth, argued that DeMarco wasn’t sufficiently conservative. Incumbent Spencer Bachus (R) is retiring. Mitt Romney carried the district with 74% of the vote in 2012.
It was a similar thumping and a similar surprise in N.C.’s 6th CD, where retiring GOP veteran Howard Coble had thrown his support to Phil Berger Jr., a local district attorney and son of the powerful state Senate President Pro Tem. But Berger lost 57-43 to the far more conservative Mark Walker, a former Baptist minister who simply outworked Berger for the nomination. The Alabama seat is rated safe Republican for November, and while the N.C. district is also thought to be favoring the GOP, it’s a seat to watch.
The future for two other House districts, in Florida, are unclear. A state court judge ruled that Republicans went too far in drawing the 5th CD, now securely held by Rep. Corrine Brown (D), and the 10th, which is held by Rep. Dan Webster (R). Judge Terry Lewis ruled that in drawing the 5th, where blacks were stuffed into a district designed to elect an African-American, Republicans made the adjoining districts safer for the GOP by removing black and Latino voters. How this affects the Aug. 26 primary or the Nov. 4 general election is unclear; it’s possible that nothing will be remedied before 2016.
Confirmed. Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, on a 71-26 vote. He replaces Shaun Donovan, who was confirmed as White House budget director on a 75-22 vote.
Culture of corruption. Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) was sentenced July 9 to ten years in prison for taking kickbacks from contractors doing city work. He was convicted in February on 20 of 21 corruption counts. On July 15, John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, two former Republican state attorneys general of Utah, were arrested and charged with accepting bribes and tampering with evidence. Shurtleff served 12 years as AG, the longest in Utah history, and when he left office in 2012 he anointed Swallow as his successor. Swallow was forced to resign his post last December.
Obits. Some of the more notable people who left us include former Idaho Gov. John Evans (D-1977-86), who died July 8 at the age of 89; crusading Tennessee newspaper editor and RFK aide John Seigenthaler, on July 11 at the age of 86; ex-Rep. Kenneth Gray (D-Ill. 1955-74, 1985-88), July 12 at 89; ex-Rep. Robert Roe (D-N.J. 1969-92), July 15 at 90; and political historian James MacGregor Burns, July 15 at 95.
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ON THE CALENDAR:
July 22 — Georgia primary runoffs.
Aug. 5 — Primaries in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Washington.
Aug. 7 — Tennessee primary.
Aug. 9 — Hawaii primary.
Aug. 9 — Ken Rudin event in Carbondale, Colo., sponsored by Aspen Public Radio.
Aug. 12 — Primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Aug. 19 — Primaries in Alaska and Wyoming.
Aug. 26 — Primaries in Arizona, Florida and Vermont.
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This Day In Political History: In a unanimous tally, the House votes 406-0 to impeach U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne, who had been convicted of tax evasion in August of 1984. It is the first time in a half century that the House voted to impeach a federal official and it’s the first time ever that the vote was unanimous. Claiborne’s attorney, Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas, has said in the past that Claiborne is the victim of a vendetta by federal officials who disliked his efforts to curb organized crime (July 22, 1986). The Senate will vote to convict Claiborne on Oct. 9, removing him from office.
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