It's no longer just "exploratory". On April 21st, 2008, Anchorage's Democratic Mayor Mark Begich formally declared his candidacy today for the U.S. Senate seat held by Ted Stevens since 1968. Full story published in the Anchorage Daily News, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, KTVA Channel 11, and KTUU Channel 2. Also discussed by CQ Politics and TheHill.com.
This separate KTUU link not only permits you to access a video interview with Mark Begich, but also reveals the outcome of an unscientific KTUU poll taken on April 21st. Out of over 5,000 respondents, 80 percent said they'd vote for Begich over Stevens; however, I think the results are distorted by the initial "flush of excitement" over the announcement. Previous scientific polls indicates Alaskan voters are virtually split between Begich and Stevens.
I have since figured out how to embed a KTUU video, so here it is:
Begich made the announcement at noon at the Mountain View Community Center in Anchorage. At 5 p.m., he'll make a similar announcement in Fairbanks at the J.P. Jones Community Development Center. "What I've been hearing is people are truly ready for change," the Democratic mayor said on Sunday. "They want to see something different". And, according to Begich, the support is broad-based and comes from multiple constituencies, so he's convince he can win.
Begich also said he will not resign as mayor during the campaign. This decision is already coming under fire from members of the public, as expressed in public comments to the ADN story.
And this is no race for the faint-hearted. The 84-year-old Stevens has been in the U.S. Senate since 1968, and is the longest-serving Republican in U.S. Senate history. But Begich is already aware of this; he's already assembled an experienced campaign core staff. Julie Hasquet, the mayor's press secretary, is leaving the municipality to be the campaign press secretary. City renewable resources manager Kevin Harun will be Begich's political director. Susanne Fleek and Schawna Thoma also left the city for positions related to the campaign. And Begich's campaign manager will be Heather Rauch, who guided him to successive mayoral victories in 2003 and 2006.
However, before Begich can tackle Stevens, he must turn back challenges within his own party. The first challenger, Frank Vondersaar, is a perennial candidate who will provide little more than token opposition. However, the other challenger is a former Republican lawmaker and currently a renowned ethics "gadfly", Ray Metcalfe, who will run a vigorous and noisy campaign, although when the smoke clears, Begich should be able to dispose of him as well.
And Begich already brings some endorsement muscle to the table. He is the endorsed choice of national and state Democratic Party leaders. Democrats like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada have courted him for months. And Begich also has financial muscle; he's raised more than $267,090 in campaign funds in just over a month through his exploratory committee. Although over 80 percent of his donors were from Alaska, he's also received national money, including $10,000 from Reid's leadership fund.
Ted Stevens actually learned of Begich's decision on April 20th, and posted the following statement in reaction:
“I learned today as I was heading back to Washington from a weekend in Alaska that Mark Begich has announced that he intends to seek the Democratic nomination to the United States Senate.
"As I have said before, this race will be about who has the experience, the seniority and the proven record to best serve Alaska in the U.S. Senate. As we work to build the gas line, to make sure Alaska gets an appropriate share of offshore oil revenue and continue to work for a sound economic base for our state to provide jobs and opportunities, we need proven leadership in Washington.
"I am honored to have been re-elected by Alaskans for many years. I have worked hard for that honor by fighting for Alaska’s fair share of the federal budget and for more access and control in developing our resources. The successes we’ve had include new or improved medical facilities in virtually every community in the state, Alaskan management of our offshore fisheries, improved airports, ports, highways and other transportation facilities, new water and sewer facilities across the state and much needed community facilities from Ketchikan to Barrow. Those changes have transformed Alaska. But we still have much to accomplish.
"Alaska has a small population and is a long way from Washington. Seniority and experience have never meant more than they do today. I believe that I am best able to provide the leadership, and I believe that Alaskans know that.
"I continue to call on Mark and all the other candidates for U.S. Senate to renounce the politics of personal attacks. Let us make this a race about the many important issues our state and our nation face – and who can best meet those challenges."
Stevens faces three challengers within his party, David Cuddy, Gerald Heikes, and Richard Wanda. Cuddy is better funded and has a stronger portfolio, but Stevens should prevail over all of them. Stevens has a national fundraising reach, having amassed a $1.3 million campaign account to date.
Stevens also faces one alternative challenger in Ted Gianoutsos of the Veterans Party.
Rebecca Fisher, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said Begich's decision to run doesn't change the support Alaskans have for Stevens. "We fully expect him to be re-elected this November," Fisher said. The NRSC operates the controversial anti-Begich website BeggichBaggage.com. And I just discovered a second anti-Begich site operated by the NRSC - MarkBegichFacts.info.
But it was another poison-pen website, RetireTed.com, operated by the Alaska Democratic Party, that was the subject for discussion when Mark Begich called into KFQD conservative shock jock Dan Fagan's program on April 21st. Approximately 20 minutes into the program, Fagan started hammering away about this website, and insisted that Begich could have it closed down if he wants. Begich effectively parried the issue aside.
It would be best if this campaign was decided by issues and character rather than poison-pen websites.