News from the Votemaster
Polar bear special today. Yesterday we reported that a rich businessman, Vic Vickers, is spending $410,000 to defeat Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) in the Alaska senatorial primary. We added that Vickers didn't have a prayer. That was yesterday. Today is today. In politics, a week--make that a day--is a long time. Stevens took bribes from an oil company and then concealed the payments (of $250,000) on official Senate forms he filed. Yesterday he was indicted on seven felony counts of making false statements on his financial disclosure forms.
Stevens is the longest serving Republican senator in history but it is hard to see how he can survive now. No doubt the (private) pressure from fellow Republicans to drop out will be immense. If he ignores them and stays in the race and manages to eke out a victory against the unknown Vickers, real estate developer David Cuddy, and several other Republicans (who are likely to split the anti-Stevens vote), he gets to face off with Anchorage mayor Mark Begich (D) in the Fall. Begich is young, good looking, popular in the state, and well funded (one of Chuck Schumer's priorities). Begich is already ahead in the polls and the indictment probably seals Stevens' doom.
The Republicans best-case scenario is that Stevens wins the Aug. 26 primary and then drops out before Sept 17. In that case, the Alaska Republican Party gets to name the new nominee. They could name Gov. Sarah Palin (R), but the state legislature decided Monday to investigate her for abuse-of-power charges for trying to fire her state trooper brother-in-law who is in a bitter child custody dispute with her sister. They could name Rep. Don Young (R) but he is under investigation for corruption as well. Their best best is to name Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who is running in the House primary, but could switch to the Senate race if the slot opens up to due the nominee's resignation and the state party wants him to. If Stevens drops out after Sept. 17, his name remains on the ballot.
But Stevens is not the kind of guy who gives up easily and is probably not keen on going to jail at 84 so he may deny all charges and not drop out. Second best scenario for the Republicans is that Vickers or Cuddy wins the primary. Then the Republicans have an unknown but at least untainted candidate against Begich. That becomes the classic battle of an established Democratic politician against a rich businessman.
Stevens indictment could easy affect the House race in Alaska as well since Young is facing a primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell (R). A Hays Research Group (D) poll puts Young's unfavorable rating at 56% and his favorable rating at 41%. In a trial heat against Parnell, Young loses 42% to 46%. However, when Parnell is paired against the Democrat, former state legislator Ethan Berkowitz, Berkowitz has a slight lead of 33% to 30%. Stevens' indictment only makes Young's task harder as all the Democrats will be yelling "Republicans are corrupt" from now until November and a lot of Republican voters will shake their heads in dismay and agree.
The only top official in Alaska not in a current scandal is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), but she has a bit of a cloud over her head, too. She was initially appointed to the Senate by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski (R-AK), but later won election on her own. She had ethical problems last year though.
All in all (1) lots of action in Alaska, (2) the Democrats chances of picking up this Senate seat have probably improved, (3) the Democrats chances of picking up the House seat are now maybe 50-50, and (4) the national Democrats have more ammo in other races to paint the Republicans as out of touch and corrupt. Three state legislators and two lobbyists have already been convicted in the Alaska scandal. CQ Politics changed its rating on the Senate race yesterday from leans Republican to leans Democratic. A lot rides on what Stevens does. More at Daily Kos.
Yet more buzz about Gov. Tim Kaine (D-VA) spending his days and nights talking to Barack Obama's operatives. There are at least two plausible explanations about this. First, Kaine is indeed on the short list for the Veep job. Second, Obama's #1 red-state target is Virginia and Obama wants the governor to run his operation in Virginia. Both could be true, of course. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato has followed Kaine closely since 1994 and has the best analysis of what a Kaine pick would mean. The highlights are as follows. First, Obama clearly likes Kaine. Both are newbie politicians with Kansas roots who graduated from Harvard Law School. Obama is 46. Kaine is 50. Liking your Veep is a real plus. Second, this election is going to be about domestic policy and as former mayor of Richmond and now governor of Virginia, Kaine knows a lot about the nitty-gritty of education, health care, and economic issues. Third, Kaine is not part of the Washington insider crowd and can credibly yell "CHANGE" along with Obama. Fourth, Virginia has seceded--again. It is no longer part of the South. It is a Middle Atlantic State, just somewhat redder than Maryland. The enormous influx of people to the D.C. suburbs in Northern Virginia has allowed the Democrats to win the last two statewide elections: Kaine himself for governor in 2005 and Jim Webb as senator in 2006. With Kaine on the ticket, the Democrats have a decent chance of carrying for the state for the first time since Lyndon Johnson's landslide in 1964. Fifth, Kaine is a devout Catholic, a fact he can emphasize by making sure he is photographed going to church every Sunday. He can also remind people that he was once a Jesuit missionary in Honduras. Sixth, Kaine is a geographic twofer. He was born in Minnesota but went to high school and college in Missouri, graduating from the University of Missouri in economics. Since he lived in Missouri for many years, he could campaign in this key swing state and plausibly claim he knows the state and its people very well. If Kaine could bring in Virginia and Missouri based on geography alone, that's 24 electoral votes. Kerry got 252 electoral votes. You do the arithmetic.
Sabato also points out Kaine's downsides. First, Kaine has no foreign policy experience (unless you count his missionary experience). Second, Kaine backed Obama from day 0, which means Obama is missing an opportunity to pick someone who supported Hillary Clinton. Her fans may notice that. Third, Sabato (who lives in Virginia) says Kaine has not been a particularly good governor. Fourth, the lieutentant governor of Virginia is Bob Bolling, a Republican. He would serve for a year and a new governor would be elected in Nov. 2009. If Bolling was elected in his own right, the Republicans would control the governor's mansion during a redistricting year. On the other hand, Kaine is term limited so he can't run in 2009 even if he does not become Vice President.
Kaine is personally pro life but he says he is not in favor of laws banning all abortions. Still, this will raise the hackles on many Democrats but it is likely that the Democrats are hungry enough for victory that they may overlook this. This position may even be a bit of a plus in Appalachia. He also opposes same-sex marriage. While these positions won't make him popular in the lefty blogosphere, they do help Obama project his postpartisan image. Picking a pro-life, anti-same-sex-marriage VP will make it much harder for the Republicans to claim Obama is a wacko, far-out liberal and get anybody to believe it. But getting a second or even a third job interview doesn't mean you get the job. The Kaine leaks could all be a smokescreen so Obama can pick some totally unknown state senator from Wisconsin.
CQ Politics has a good story on the money race for the open House seats. The Democrats have more cash in 7 of the top 10; Republicans lead in the other 3.
No new state polls for President today, however Gallup's national tracking poll continues to put Obama ahead, today by 47% to 41%. Rasmussen's tracking poll makes it much closer, 47% to 46%.
A generic congressional poll from Rasmussen gives the Democrats a 47% to 34% edge over the Republicans. The Stevens indictment surely won't help the Republican brand much. No nonpartisan polls for any Senate races today, although PPP (D) puts Sen. Liddy Dole (R-NC) ahead of Kay Hagan (D) in North Carolina.
-- The Votemaster