Ever since Ted Stevens’ indictment, the GOP’s chances of retaining the Alaska Senate seat require (1) Stevens to win the August 26th primary and (2) to then withdraw and allow party leaders to pick a replacement. With every passing day that Ted Stevens proclaims his innocence, it looks increasingly unlikely that Republicans could convince Stevens to let go. The incumbent held a campaign rally in Anchorage on Monday and was confident a speedy trial would find him innocent: “By scheduling the trial for next month this court has made it possible for all Alaskans to know the facts of the case and make up their own mind. They will be the ultimate jury before they cast their votes in November.”
Stevens can tell Republicans who are pressuring him to drop out that he is waiting for the verdict (by which time it would be too late to replace him). But will Stevens even get to the general election? It will depend on the credibility of two little-known opponents, the more obscure of the two being Vic Vickers. We are getting to witness a candidate invent himself quite literally from nothing by using his considerable fortune - as caricatural an example of a candidate trying to buy his way into office as we could imagine.
Vickers is a Florida businessman who moved to AK in January and changed his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican. He had already announced before the incumbent’s indictment that he would spend $750,000 on ads - a significant amount for a state with such a cheap media market. Last week, Vickers unveiled an ad hitting Stevens’s ethics. Yesterday, Vickers unveiled two new ads featuring two Alaska residents (Karen and Jim) praising Vickers as an “honest man” who will “do battle” against corruption. There is no mention of Vickers’s background, qualifications, beliefs or principles - though you would expect that an unknown candidate would want to at least introduce himself to voters.
Meanwhile, in the Minnesota Senate race, the ad wars between Al Franken and Norm Coleman are mounting at a frenzied pace - and it’s only the beginning of August! The tone has been getting increasingly negative ever since Norm Coleman released an ad in which “ordinary Minnesotans” rehash the litany of controversies that has surrounded Coleman since this spring. Franken’s release on Monday attacked Coleman for his association with Bush on a number of issues, in the clearest expression of the two candidates’ strategy. Since then, Coleman and Franken have gone to explicitly question each other’s ethics. Coleman brought up Franken’s failure to pay taxes in 17 states and his refusal to disclose pre-2003 records:
Franken quickly responded that the Democrat hadn’t paid taxes in states in which “he spoke” because he overpaid them in the state he lived (not Minnesota, by the way). The ad calls this an “honest mistake” and goes on to attack Coleman for living in a low-rent apartment, implying he is getting this as a favor in exchange for helping lobbyists. The ad ends with a very cryptic “and it gets even worse. Stay tuned for more” (I confess I myself am confused about that ending):
This is the type of ads candidates air in the heat of the general election, and certainly post-Labor Day. Both of these ads are using heavy innuendo to imply there are some deep mysteries buried in Franken’s pre-2003 tax records and in Coleman scandals that are yet to be revealed. And there is a reason such ads are not employed until the last stretch of the campaigning: They have the potential to work, but they can also backfire, and whatever candidate appears to be crossing the line could pay dearly.
At this point, the DSCC and Franken could be better off taking the tax accusation head on and transform it into such an obvious mistake that Coleman is made to look silly for employing that charge. Considering how much this issue has penetrated the Minnesota political conversation, it will not be easy but Democrats might have no other choice.
Kansas is another state in which the first attacks are flying. After former Democratic Rep. Slattery proclaimed himself frugal in a spot out a few days ago, Senator Roberts unleashed a negative ad (you can watch it here) attacking Slattery’s spending habits and twice calling him with that other dreaded L-word, “Washington lobbyist.” Sure, that Roberts is already attacking Slattery means that he is taking the Democrat’s challenge seriously; but the fact of the matter is that Roberts has enough money to saturate the airwaves for many weeks and Slattery would be hard-pressed to respond. As of the end of the second-quarter, Roberts had almost $6 million in cash-on-hand compared to $600K for Slattery.