Around the US in 50 Days: Alaska

Just as Hawaii will be a slam dunk for Obama, Alaska will be a slam dunk for the eventual Republican nominee. Alaska is a fairly reliable red state and its three electoral votes will go to the GOP. The running count thus far is Obama 4, GOP nominee 3.
Unlike 2010, there is no Senatorial drama this time around. If one remembers, incumbent GOP Lisa Murkoski, often labeled a RINO, faced an insurgent chanllenge from Tea Party favorite, Joe Miller, who managed to garner the endorsement of Sarah Palin. Miller eventually defeated Murkowski in the primary and would face off against Democrat Scott McAdams. Initial polls put Miller ahead which underscores Alaska’s red state status that a political novice would be leading. However, Lisa Murkowski then decided to launch an independent write in campaign to retain her seat. Wisely, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that Murkowski would caucus with Republicans and retain her committee assignments when it became evident she could win as a write-in. The deeper the campaign ran, the more the dynamics changed. Some of Miller’s comments, taken out of context, painted him as an extremist and it did not help when his security staff “arrested” a journalist. It became increasingly obvious that the race would basically be Murkowski versus Miller again except this time it was for all the marbles. McAdams would serve to siphon votes away from Miller.
In the end, Murkowski prevailed although Miller challenged the results in court. His primary complaint was that some citizens had misspelled Murkowski’s name and he wanted those votes invalidated. A subsequent study that even if Miller had prevailed on those grounds, Murkowski still would have won. He eventually conceded defeat and Murkowski was returned to the Senate. The fact that McAdams only received 23% of the vote in this fractious Republican environment underscores the fact that it is difficult for a Democrat to win in Alaska. If McAdams could not win under those conditions, then no one can.
One interesting facet of Alaska politics when it comes to the national stage is the fact that incumbency certainly has advantages. Look at how long corruption-tainted Ted Stevens lasted. Seniority has advantages in committee assignments. In fact, the biggest complaint is that because of longevity and key committee assignments, Alaska’s elected officials in Washington wield too much power in relation to their small population. That could be a good thing at times, but it also has it disadvantages. For example, the poster child for pork projects- the Bridge to Nowhere- is a product of that seniority in Congress and was the ork of Ted Stevens and current GOP at-large Congressman, Don Young.
Hence, the only election of consequence this year is that of Young’s seat in the House. Thus far, the only declared candidate is John Cox who unsuccessfully challenged Young in the Republican primary in 2010. Considering the fact that he lost in a landslide in an anti-incumbent environment that may have been worse than 2012, chances are he will not prevail in 2012. However, Young has not announced his intentions to run for yet another term. If so, he is a shoo-in not only for the nomination, but also for another term in Congress. If he decides to retire, all eyes will be on Joe Miller to see if he will enter the race. As an at-large candidate, it is very much like running for Senate in that state. Should Miller be the nominee or even challenge Young in a primary, it would be interesting to see if the Tea Party has lost any influence in Alaska, which could be a telltale sign that they will play a lessened role in 2012 than they did in 2010. And finally, one would be interested to know if Palin will go back to the well and endorse Miller again. Of course, all of this is conjecture until Young announces his intentions.
On the Democratic side, there is declared candidate Doug Urquidi, an electrician who lost his only other bid for elected office- the Anchorage Assembly. There is also perennial candidate Frank Vandersaar who has won and lost in the past…several times. In fact, he ran against Stevens for the Senate in 2002 and in 2010, he entered the primary for the Democratic Senate nomination, losing to Scott McAdams and finishing fourth in a field of four. In short, if the best the Democrats in Alaska can do is put forth an electrician who cannot get elected to City Council and a gadfly who finishes fourth in a field of four, then chances are they will not win this seat. Conditions would have to be almost perfect for a Democratic victory in Alaska and those conditions simply do not exist nor are they on the horizon.
Considering that a Democrat has not held Young’s seat since Richard Nixon was President and that Young himself has not faced a serious challenge since 1990 despite the controversy that sometimes occurs around his name indicates that this seat is safely in Republican hands. The only chance a Democrat has would be if the Republican (1) simply self-destructs or (2) a viable third party or independent candidate runs and siphons off GOP votes allowing the Democrat to win with a plurality. None of that is happening in 2012 and no one sees any storm clouds on the horizon.