Barack Obama and Howard Dean see eye-to-eye on what Democrats need in order to build the party's base all across America: a 50-state strategy. In other words, don't ignore two-thirds of the country as either "safe" states or "we'll never win" states, and instead make your case to people everywhere in America. Perhaps this won't flip "red" states for the presidential race, but it will benefit "down-ticket" Democrats struggling in states which are usually written off by the national party organization. This could bear fruit in many places this year, but I would like to suggest one previously "redder than red" state where an Obama visit could help Democratic candidates... and also conveniently back John McCain into an impossible corner. Obama needs to go north -- to Alaska.
Alaska, to the surprise of many pundits, is going to be very close this year. This stems from Republican office-holders apparently trying to take the "first in political corruption" award away from Louisiana. There are so many recent scandals involving Alaskan Republicans that it is almost impossible to keep track of them all. Bribery, corruption, graft -- apparently they were all par for the course for the GOP up north. Which is why Democrats even have a chance this year, because while most of these scandals didn't make the press down here in the "lower 48," they were splashed across the headlines in Alaska itself. And Alaskan voters have been paying attention.
The latest presidential poll from Alaska (from May 14) shows Obama behind McCain by eight points, 42 to 50. But this is already seven points higher than Kerry managed in 2004 (35 to Bush's 62) -- which in itself was a Democratic high-water mark in Alaska for the past four presidential election cycles. Meaning it is not completely out of the question for Obama to eke out a win there in November. Because (from the same poll) the Democratic challenger for Senator Ted Stevens' seat is actually running ahead of Stevens, 48 to 44. Mark Begich, mayor of Anchorage (home to something like 45 percent of the state's population), is making a solid run at one of the Senate's longest-serving incumbent members. Whether an Obama visit would help or hurt him this fall is an open question, but in my opinion it is worth the risk. Because it forces John McCain to spend money and time on a state he thought was solidly in his column.
Or maybe it wouldn't. Because the best part of Obama appearing at a rally for Begich is that Ted Stevens would be pretty hard for John McCain to support publicly. Stevens is the uncontested king of earmarks in the Senate (you may remember his "bridge to nowhere" from a few years ago -- especially the part where he stood up in the Senate and threatened to quit if his bridge to nowhere funds were redirected to Hurricane Katrina cleanup projects). And John McCain is apparently fantasizing about balancing the U.S. budget by getting rid of these pesky earmarks. So it would be inconsistent with McCain's current core campaign message ("earmarks are bad, mmm-kay?") for him to appear in support of the poster-boy for earmark abuse in the Senate.
As if that weren't a tough enough corner to paint McCain into, there is also the problem of Stevens' alleged corruption. The F.B.I. has already raided Senator Stevens' home and taken lots of photos and other evidence in an effort to make the case that Stevens received thousands of dollars of improvements to his house (they added a whole story to the structure), without having to pay for them. From an organization who has already been proven in court to have bribed just about every Republican in Alaska they could reach.
The scandal fun doesn't stop there, though, as Democrats also have a chance to unseat an 18-term Congressman in Alaska as well. Representative Don Young is also under investigation for alleged bribery and graft involving the same company implicated in the Stevens case. As well as facing a separate investigation concerning an earmark, amusingly enough. He faces a tough primary challenger, and then will likely face Democrat Ethan Berkowitz in the general election. And Berkowitz is already polling seven points ahead of Young.
Once again, one of McCain's core issues is ethics in government. So how can McCain actively support two candidates who just may be under federal indictment soon? It's a quandary for McCain -- the GOP may lose a House and a Senate seat, so it's a "battleground" state in the race for control of Congress, but McCain would have to go against two key "moral high ground" issues he has staked out (ethics and earmarks) in order to help out the Republican incumbents. Which would be risky for McCain to even attempt.
So McCain would have to decide whether to risk the rest of the country noticing that he's supporting the king of earmarks, who is possibly ensnared in his own corruption -- or just letting Obama campaign up north unopposed, and hoping that the state will stay in the Republican column this year.
Barack Obama may not win Alaska this year in the Electoral College, but after all the state does only have three votes there, meaning it may not ultimately matter much. But Obama could help gain one more Democratic seat in the Senate and one more in the House, which would definitely be worth the trip up north.
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
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