Saturday, October 30, 2004

The Alaska Senate Race Nail Biter

How odd is this entire election season?

According to Reuters:

"Voters in Alaska will decide on Tuesday whether to make their state the first in the country to legalize the sale, possession or use of marijuana by adults.

"Alaska already allows legal possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults, the most liberal policy among the 50 U.S. states, thanks to a 1975 state Supreme Court ruling."

Now, with that teaser, walk with The Corsair for a while, as he discusses Alaskan politics like no other blog would (for fear of putting the readers to sleep -- just kidding, pumpkins):

Also in Alaska news, after the thai sticks, is news that although roughly a third of the US Senate is up for election -- 34 up for grabs, 8 incumbents opting not to run -- there are a good half a dozen "nail biter" Senate races, but Alaska's race is probably the hottest, because: 1) it's so close, 2) it's in a supposedly ultra-red state, 3) reversing ANWR for oil drilling is on the table, supported by both sides of the debate, and 4) the party which wins the Senate race will probably end up holding the majority of seats in the Senate.

The poop: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a freshman Republican who inherited the seat from her father after his 2002 Alaska gubernatorial victory is facing charges of "nepotism." Secondly, The Senator is also in a race with a popular two-term ex governor, Tony Knowles. As Knowles has been reelected to Statewide office twice, while this is Murkowski's first such a race, she is seen as particularly vulnerable in such a solid Bush state that ordinarily would be a cake walk.

The Juneau Empire writes:

"(The Senator) is the only sitting Republican in the Senate at risk of losing - a vulnerability that could topple the GOP's slight majority in the chamber."

An interesting bit of trivia -- although both candidates are for reversing ANWR, CNNinternational writes:

"Despite their agreement, the oil and gas industry is banking on Murkowski.

"'It's fairly surprising in that both of them support the development of ANWR and have a lot of the same views on oil and gas. I would think that they would get the same amount of money, or nothing, but here we have a discrepancy,' said Steve Cleary, executive director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group.

"According to a breakdown of campaign donations by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan campaign watchdog group, oil and gas interests have donated more than $139,000 to Murkowski's campaign, making them her No. 1 industrial supporter.

"Donations to Knowles by oil and gas companies, by contrast, don't even register in his top 20 list of donors by industry.

"The reason, according to watchdog groups and some in the industry, is because the money race is not about Lisa vs. Tony, but 51 vs. 49. That's the 51 seats the Republicans have now to control the Senate, a majority that oil companies would like to keep."

Which has played into Knowles' campaign tv, radio and internet ads stressing "Alaska First" -- a surprisingly conservative theme -- broadly hinting that nepotism and the oil interests are the obsessions of Murkowski.

Hans Nichols of TheHill writes of the race:

"Radio ads and robo-calls in the Eskimo language Yup?ik coupled with a whiff of nepotism could topple the incumbent Republican senator in Alaska, one of the reddest states in the nation. Former Gov. Tony Knowles (D) has modeled his Alaska get-out-the-vote effort on Sen. Tim Johnson?s (D-S.D.) successful 2002 drive among the South Dakota tribes."

Senator Johnson's 2002 get-out-the-vote campaign was controversial for its time. Up until that moment, the Native American vote was not a factor, but, in a close election, they became a major Democratic Party strategy. Reservation voters turned out in much higher numbers than normal and, as a result of a highly negative campaign, overwhelmingly supported Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, who defeated his Republican challenger John Thune by a whisker -- 524 votes."

TheHill continues:

?'Our get-out-the-vote program is the Tim Johnson plan on steroids,' said Matt McKenna, spokesman for Knowles. Knowles?s 120-plus paid staffers in the remote, roadless villages where 15 percent of the electorate lives dwarfs Sen. Lisa Murkowski?s rural team ? a group she calls 'all volunteers.' Murkowski is counting on Alaska?s senior senator, Ted Stevens, to deliver the native vote by convincing communities that used to subsist on salmon and seal that keeping 'Uncle Ted' as a chairman in the majority party is the best way to keep federal money flowing to the state. Term limits will end Stevens?s chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, but, if the Republicans retain their majority, he will chair the Commerce Committee."

Again, these maneuvers are playing into the Knowle's campaign's overarching themes of nepotism, cronyism and special interests.

"Alaska?s clout in Washington is the touchstone of Murkowski?s campaign, and her claim that a cohesive delegation will be better for the state is gaining traction with voters, said Carl E. Shepro, professor at the University of Alaska.Murkowski hopes that the national election is tight and that Bush trails Kerry late into polling day. She believes that if GOP control of the Senate in jeopardy when polls close in the East, late-deciding Alaskans will vote for 'Team Alaska, Team America' and return her to the seat to which her father appointed her when he left it for the governorship.

The Team Alaska, Team America theme nicely counteracts the charge that the Republicans do not put Alaska First:

" ... Murkowski would also be the first woman elected to the all-male club of Alaska?s congressional delegation, a significant, if unspoken, barrier in a state of Arctic oilmen and traditional frontier values."

Read the rest of the details of this interesting race by Hans Nichols here.

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