Ten days after Alaska’s primaries, the House race between Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell and Rep. Don Young is still unresolved. Last we heard, Young was ahead by 152 votes, with thousands left to be counted. The deadline for non-international absentee ballots to arrive was Friday, so election officials counted 25,000 absentee and questioned ballots yesterday. But the margin barely moved: Young is now ahead by 239 votes.
The only ballots left, as the (very useful over the past week Anchorage Daily News informs us, are an “unknown number of absentee votes cast and mailed by voters from overseas.” Since those ballots can come until Wednesday, final results will not be announced for a few more days - and we don’t even know how many such ballots there are and whether Parnell has a chance at overtaking Young.
And it is unlikely the confusion will even end on Wednesday, as the loser can ask for a state-funded recount if he trails by less than 0.5%. That could drag any finalization of the Republican nominee until September 18th - about six weeks from Election Day - though it appears that the general election will not be that suspenseful whoever wins the GOP nomination. As the latest poll confirmed, Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz would be the clear favorite if Young survives and the clear underdog if he doesn’t.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, a poll released earlier this week by Elizabeth Dole is generating some noise. The spot portrays Democratic challenger Kay Hagan as a yapping dog while the announcer declares that “they call her fibber Kay Hagan.” Also, the ad touts Dole’s “clout,” a response to DSCC spots accusing her of being ineffective:
The News & Observer remarks that it has been unable to locate any prior instance of Hagan being referred to as “fibber Kay,” and adds that the Dole campaign was unable to point to a specific place or time they heard such a nickname. But the ad’s most inappropriate part, of course, is its visual portrayal of a candidate as a dog. Challenged to explain why such a representation was chosen by a New Republic blogger, a Dole staffer had a vague reply:
Gidley, Dole’s spokesperson, took a long pause when asked what the dog symbolizes, noting slowly that there isn’t “a particular image we are trying to portray.” Eventually, he explained that it alludes to Hagan’s stump persona. “She is out on the campaign trail barking fibs at the audience… It’s reminiscent of a dog barking, I guess,” Gidley said. “Everyone’s had to live next to a dog that just barks constantly, and you’ve heard the phrase ‘all bark and no bite,’ and Kay Hagan has been barking for a while.”
While the ad makes no mention of any specific lies Hagan has told, it seeks to discredit any future attack she might launch by portraying her as so desperate that she would say anything to get to Dole - just like a yapping dog. The ad is meant to prevent voters from changing their opinion of Dole by appealing to their solidarity and rallying them in defense in her defense.
There have been other interesting Senate ads lately, for instance the DSCC’s attack ad against Gordon Smith, Bruce Lunsford’s spot attacking Mitch McConnell for breaking his promises and calling on voters to not longer be “McConned” and the DSCC’s attack ad against Roger Wicker. None are particularly ground breaking, but it is worth taking notice of the fact that the DSCC is investing in many more races than the NRSC is at this moment. (The GOP’s committee is only airing ads in North Carolina and in New Hampshire.) It is also noteworthy that the DSCC is on the air in Mississippi, a deeply red state where the latest polls have shown Wicker climbing into a lead.
Finally, take a look at this ad from Missouri’s gubernatorial race, for Jay Nixon’s spot bears a striking resemblance to Barack Obama’s message at the presidential level:
Nixon exploits GOP candidate Kenny Hulshof’s statement that the economy is strong, just as Obama has been doing against McCain. Nixon goes on to describe himself as “the change we need,” once again an echo of themes we are hearing in the presidential race. This opens the interesting question - about which I will hopefully write more soon - of what effect (if any) down-the-ballot ads might have on Obama-McCain contest.
My sense is that Obama is boosted by ads like Nixon’s and by the fact that congressional and gubernatorial Democrats are running ads tying their Republican opponents to Bush or that Jeanne Shaheen and Al Franken are using footage of Sens. Sununu and Coleman embracing the president. There will be many Democrats pounding the same message over the next 2 months - that Republicans are the heirs of Bush and that they would not represent change, and this could guarantee that Bush remains on people’s minds over the next two months. And if voters are thinking about Bush or the GOP when voting in the Senate race - and that is the centerpiece of the Democratic strategy in countless states - they will also take similar concerns into account when voting in the presidential contest.