Sarah Palin Top Choice for Senate?!
Just sit for a minute.
If you’re an Alaskan, do not start loading up the motorhome for your political asylum road trip to Canada. If you are from the Lower 48, do not stop reading here and put a big red Sharpied ‘X’ over Alaska on your desktop globe. Let me explain.
A few weeks ago, the ex-half-governor unhinged her maw, and some words fell out. Seemingly, she is considering a run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Mark Begich. Pollsters tilted their heads to the side like a dog who hears a whistle. Then they got to work.
Public Policy Polling released some numbers today, and we all know how we love us some crunchy tasty numbers. So, grab a spoon and let’s dig in.
Alaska is one of the hot five Senate races next year. It’s a race in which a Democrat holds office in a state that voted for Mitt Romney. Think about that for a second, and you’ll understand the precarious position of red state Dems. That said, Democrats in Alaska tend to be rabidly pro-gun, pro-drilling in ANWR, and in Mark Begich’s case, pro-NDAA, pro-Stand Your Ground, and pro-offshore drilling in the Arctic. So, in the rest of the country he’s a Republican who isn’t a bigot, and likes the middle class.
OK, so those don’t exist.
Given the reality of the current state of politics and partisanship, this makes Mark Begich a strange and exotic bird, out of place no matter where he goes but with a skill set that just may allow him to survive. He’s basically like a giant ostrich in the arctic tundra, running along at top speed, leaping over marmot holes in a weird, awkward dance, just trying not to stand out and get eaten by a bear.
In addition to Begich, and Alaska’s other (comparatively) moderate Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski who is a centrist ostrich in her own party, there is a “third party” lurking in the shadows, and it’s totally screwing things up for Republicans. Who are these anti-GOP activists hell-bent on destroying the Republican Party of Alaska?
They go by the name… Republicans. The deep rift between the Constitutional-Conservative-Tea-Party-Ron-Paul wing of the Republican Party, and the Moderate-Corporatist-Centrist-Old-Guard wing of the party is developing splendidly. And the “new” Republican Party seems determined to put candidates in the primary that stand no hope of actually winning in the general election.
36% of GOP primary voters in the state say they’d like Palin to go head-to-head against Mark Begich. I confess to being one of those people, although probably for different reasons than those polled. The evangelical Tea Party crowd, although they are a small minority in the state, still hold a torch for Palin. They’ve never read Going Rogue, but it sits on their coffee tables. They still have a faded Palin for Governor bumper sticker on their 1978 Ford pickup truck. And they’ve forgiven the unforgivable sin of abandoning Alaska, because at least she “put us on the map.” This hard-core, fringe base provides most of the voters that show up to the primaries. This is evidenced by the last Senate race in which Tea Party candidate Joe Miller won the nomination, and then got trounced by the incumbent Lisa Murkowski when she ran a successful write-in campaign against him in the general election. Yes, “Murkowski” won as a write-in candidate against the chosen nominee of the Republican Party in Alaska. This is how much the majority of Alaskans don’t like extremism, or the Tea Party.
In a hypothetical matchup for Senate, Palin actually beats Mead Treadwell, the awkward milksop Lieutenant Governor running for the seat by double digits, 36%-26%. Daniel Sullivan (the head of the Division of Natural Resources, not the Anchorage Mayor) goes down 15%, and the aforementioned former Republican Party nominee for Senate Joe Miller trails the pack with 12%.
Alaskans’ wild and passionate indifference affair with Mead Treadwell is writ large in the numbers. Palin, of course, leads him strongly among those self-described as “very conservative” by 43%-20%, but she even pulls ahead 28%-25% with moderate Republicans. The former populist, reform-minded, upstart governor who had an approval rating in her state approaching 90% has fallen in esteem like a bag of dirt. She currently has a 39%-58% favorability, making her exactly as wildly popular in the state as… wait for it… Barack Obama. Independent and undeclared voters who represent more than 50% of the state’s voters overall think even less of her – 33%-64%.
Seems that Alaska doesn’t like a quitter. Even Iditarod mushers who crash into trees and break their faces finish the race.
The final indignity heaped upon the steaming pile of scorn for the Quitter is that less than half of Alaskans even consider her to BE Alaskan anymore (47%) and a whopping 37% of voters in Alaska think she should run for Senate from Arizona. Ooooo. That’s gonna leave a mark.
So, what does all this mean for incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Begich?
In a matchup with Palin, Begich pulls out a victory by 52-40%, leading by 21 points with Independents 56%-35%. And Alaskans end up with the most entertaining Senate race in the nation- and a Democratic Senator. I vote for this scenario.
As it stands now, the best shot Republicans have is Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell and the good news for the GOP is that if Palin sits it out he, and not 2010 nominee Joe Miller, is the next choice of the party base. In a three-way primary Treadwell gets 33% to 25% for Sullivan and 24% for Miller. And in a head to head with Miller, Treadwell leads 53-30%. Even among Republican primary voters Miller has a lackluster 26-53% favorability rating.
The vapid, and tedious Lt. Governor Treadwell trails Begich 44%-40%. His favorability rating stands at 35-29% with a whopping 36% of voters still not knowing enough about him to have formed an opinion one way or the other. Wake us up when he says something.
Alaskans are closely divided when it comes to Begich with 42% approving of him, and 41% disapproving. No matter what he does, he’s got a D after his name, and in wide swaths of the state, that’s a tough sell. Even Begich has characterized himself as a “Rockefeller Republican,” but primary voters aren’t likely to vote for one of those, even if Begich were an R. He does lead Sullivan, whom nobody has ever heard of 46-39% and Joe Miller 55-32%.
The governor’s race looks positive for Republican retention, despite faltering numbers. Governor Sean Parnell, whose positive numbers used to linger at or above 70% has lost support. Only 44% approve of his performance to 42% who disapprove. His advocacy for a giant giveaway to oil companies from the state treasury with no strings attached has raised the ire of constituents. A referendum to repeal SB21, which Parnell signed into law last month, will be on the August 2014 primary ballot. The campaign leading up to the vote will doubtless take some swipes at the already faltering Parnell.
But even still, he holds comfortable leads in hypothetical match ups with some of the most likely Democratic opponents, none of whom have tossed their hats in the ring yet. Parnell leads former lawmaker Ethan Berkowitz 51-38%, Sen. Bill Wielechowski of Anchorage 52-33%, Rep. Les Gara of Anchorage 53-33%, and Sen. Hollis French of Anchorage by 54-33%. No numbers were taken for former U.S. Senate candidate Scott McAdams of Sitka, who finished up the Senate race against Murkowski and Miller in 2010 as everyone’s second choice, and with high favorability ratings across the board.
Parnell looks strong against a primary challenge from former gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker, currently leading him 60-22%. Walker, an oil and gas man, has been outspoken against Parnell’s oil industry giveaway, and that race may tighten during the coming year as the ballot initiative figures prominently in political discussion and analysis. Even though the repeal appears poised to gain traction and support, Parnell’s opponents on both sides of the aisle have much work to do, and results will hinge on how effectively they are able to tie him to SB21 when and if it goes down in flames.
And then, there’s Alaska’s one and only Congressman, Don Young, the seemingly invincible. He’s the uncle that makes you cringe at the Thanksgiving table; the man that nobody every admits voting for; the one who lost his first election to a dead man and yet has wiped the floor with candidate, after candidate, after candidate, since the beginning of time itself. He can yell at constituents, bang a walrus penis bone on the table while the House is in session, mock wind power, and use the term “wetbacks.” It never matters. He’s also the only man who has cleaned the clock of Sean Parnell who ran for Congress in a primary battle against Young. Parnell was famously dubbed “Captain Zero” by Young, and the name stuck. It’s not that Don Young is spectacularly popular; his approval rating is 47-43%. It’s just that nobody can beat him.
Yes, 47% of Alaskans flat out disapprove of the job Don Young is doing. But 56% will vote for him anyway against Democratic challenger Matt Moore, 56-28%. He may be an inappropriate, awkward, blustering, ignorant curmudgeon… but he’s OUR inappropriate, awkward, blustering, ignorant curmudgeon. Dammit.