Midterm Races in Alaska

There are three races in Alaska this year- the at large congressional seat, a gubernatorial election and a Senate election.  As for that congressional seat, incumbent [mc_name name=’Rep. Don Young (R-AK)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’Y000033′ ] will take on Democrat Forrest Dunbar.  This is the least interesting of the three races and Young should win this race.

As for the gubernatorial race, incumbent Republican Sean Parnell finds himself in a hard fight to keep his job against Democrat Byron Mallott.  He was leading in all polls until after the August primary when political intrigue gripped the state.  In 2010, Bill Walker ran against Sean Parnell in the gubernatorial primary and obviously lost.  Attempting to avoid another contentious primary, he opted for an independent run for Governor.  Meanwhile, Mallott won the Democratic primary, but the state leadership rejected him as the nominee and instead inserted him as the Lt. Governor candidate to run on a “unity” ticket with Walker who had to end his long affiliation with the GOP.  Since then, the Walker-Mallott ticket has taken off in the polls.  This is an unusual political tactic for the Democratic Party- in order to “win,” they dropped out to deny Parnell a clear path to a Republican victory and holding the Governor’s office.  And as we shall shortly see, Alaska is no stranger to some weird politics.

Prior to the primary, Parnell was headed towards a double-digit victory.  It isn’t that he hasn’t performed well or inflicted any damage on himself; it is the ploy being being used against him that has had an effect.  Since this unity ticket emerged, he has found himself consistently behind in the polls, dropping from a high of a 16-point advantage to some polls showing him trailing by 9 points.  Overall for 2014, he leads by slightly more than 5 points, but it is the trend since the primary that is disturbing.  This ploy, unfortunately, may pay off.  Realizing they could not win the Governor’s office with Mallott at the top of the ticket, the Democrats opted for the next best thing- Lt. Governor.  Prediction: The Walker-Mallott ticket will win by 6 points.

Regarding the weirdness of Alaska politics, nowhere is this more evident than in the Senate races of late.  [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001265′ ] was elected in 2008 amid a growing scandal involving then-Republican Senator Ted Stevens.  Stevens, who later passed away, was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in the scandal, but the damage had been done.  Thus, Begich entered office not so much because he was popular, but because of the faux scandal involving Stevens.  Despite that scandal, Begich only won by 1.3 points in 2008.  Later, when a Tea Party backed candidate ousted Republican [mc_name name=’Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M001153′ ] in the subsequent Senate race, she mounted a write-in campaign as an independent and won the general election.  Hence, there is plenty of history here to lend credence to the belief that an independent candidate can hold massive sway in an election, that Alaska voters are open to third party candidates, that Alaska politics can be cut-throat at times, and that unity or fusion tickets have a viable chance of electoral victory.

As for [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001265′ ], the problem- as in most cases for vulnerable Democratic incumbents- is Barack Obama.  Begich entered this race as one of the biggest targets of the GOP this year.  Despite the national issues of the overzealous EPA, tax reform, immigration, and Obamacare, most of the debate has been over local issues.  For example, a controversial ballot measure which would realign taxes on energy producers has come front and center.  Begich has been vague on his position on this issue which most liberals and environmentalists endorse.  The Pebble Mining project in southwest Alaska has also drawn a lot of debate with the power of the EPA being the background story.

Until this campaign began in earnest after the August primary (the GOP candidate was still in doubt up to that point), [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’B001265′ ] was waging a campaign that many on the Left considered to be a winning formula.  However, he slipped up with a distasteful ad that tried to portray Sullivan as lenient on convicted sex offenders.  The family of the victim cited in those ads asked both sides to take down the commercials because it could affect a jury trial and outcome.  Sullivan complied with that request; Begich altered the ad.  Furthermore, the “mistake” cited in that commercial as the reason for the early release of this sex offender happened BEFORE Sullivan was attorney general and he was in no way responsible.  This was an abhorrent attempt to take advantage of an equally abhorrent crime and erroneously link Sullivan to it.  It was then that Begich saw a decline in the polls.

Of the major polls since September 1st in this race, Sullivan has trailed in only two of them and both times clearly within the margin of error.  Conversely, Sullivan has consistently polled an average of 3-4 points higher than Begich in the polls in which he led.  Taken altogether, assuming Sullivan can continue to portray Begich as a lackey for both Obama and [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ], Sullivan should win.  The attempts at character assassination on the part of the Begich team have not played well in Alaska.  Under my usual model of prognostication, I would give this race to Sullivan by about 7 points.

Next:  Onward to Georgia