The Alaska Senate race just became one of the top races to watch. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich is set to announce his candidacy against incumbent GOP Senator Ted Stevens, a major recruitment coup for the DSCC.
On paper, the race hardly looks like it would be competitive. Stevens is one of the most entrenched Senators, first elected to the Senate in a special election in 1970. In fact, since his 1972 re-election he has never received less than 67% of the vote and he is known for bringing back plenty of pork to his home state. To make matters worse for Democrats, the last time they won a federal race in Alaska was in 1974 with… Mike Gravel! Since then, they have held the governor’s mansion but come out with some disappointing finishes in congressional elections (especially Tony Knowles’s 2004 defeat).
But the Alaska Republican Party is struggling in a giant corruption probe that has engulfed Rep. Young and Sen. Stevens, whose house was raided in 2007. In September, when it was revealed that the FBI had recorded phone conversations between Stevens and a businessman who has confessed to bribing Stevens’s son and sending company employees renovate Stevens’s house, even the state’s Republican Governor distanced herself from Stevens. These developments have fueled speculation that Stevens might not run for re-election — Stevens has denied that possibility and is preparing to run — and have gotten Stevens a primary challenge that does not look that threatening but that will require the incumbent to spend even more time fighting to retain his seat. And he has to do while fearing the tricke of negative stories and the progress of the investigation.
The most recent poll of a Stevens-Begich match-up was taken in December by Research 2000, an independent firm that had been commissioned by Daily Kos (this does not really count as an internal poll, since Kos is releasing numbers that look bad for Democrats as well, for example a survey showing Allen down by a huge margin against Collins in Maine). It shows Begich leading Stevens 47% to 41%, confirming that this race will be one of the most interesting ones to watch in the next few months.