Tuesday, October 28, 2008

John McCain Throws Ted Stevens Under The Bus, Calls For Stevens' Resignation From The U.S. Senate; Sarah Palin Now Joins The Chorus. Et Tu, Sarah?

In yet another last-minute gambit to revive a flagging campaign, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has thrown Alaska U.S. Senator Ted Stevens to the wolves, calling for his immediate resignation from the U.S. Senate after his October 27th conviction on seven counts of making false campaign disclosure statements. And it appears that running mate Sarah Palin has joined the chorus. Full stories published in the Anchorage Daily News, the Juneau Empire, and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Here's McCain's full statement, as posted on ADN's Alaska Politics blog:

"Yesterday, Senator Ted Stevens was found guilty of corruption. It is a sign of the health of our democracy that the people continue to hold their representatives to account for improper or illegal conduct, but this verdict is also a sign of the corruption and insider-dealing that has become so pervasive in our nation's capital.

"It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down. I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all."

Contrast McCain's reaction with running mate Sarah Palin's much more carefully crafted and measured response, originally posted on Alaska Politics on October 27th:

“This is a sad day for Alaska and for Senator Stevens and his family. The verdict shines a light on the corrupting influence of the big oil service company that was allowed to control too much of our state. That control was part of the culture of corruption I was elected to fight. And that fight must always move forward regardless of party or seniority or even past service.

“As Governor of the State of Alaska, I will carefully monitor this situation and take any appropriate action as needed. In the meantime, I ask the people of Alaska to join me in respecting the workings of our judicial system. I'm confident Senator Stevens will do what is right for the people of Alaska.”

However, since that time, the Alaska Politics blog and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner now report that Palin has upgraded her statement to call for Ted Stevens to resign. Pot, meet kettle.

Of course, there is one obvious reason why Palin initially reacted more diplomatically; unlike McCain, she has to come back and face us Alaskans after the election. And her Alaskan audience won't be as friendly as before. But it also could be another manifestation of a growing split between McCain and Palin, first reported nationally by CNN on October 25th. Several McCain advisers suggested to CNN that they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin "going rogue", characterizing her as a "diva" who will not listen to anyone. However, a Palin associate countered by saying that Palin is simply trying to "bust free" of what she believes was a damaging and mismanaged roll-out. And considering that the McCain campaign's stonewalling strategy for Troopergate failed so miserably, perhaps one cannot blame Palin for asserting herself more prominently.

However, McCain's blunt statement, which offers no niceties about their shared time in the Senate and expresses no sympathy for Stevens' family, reflects the acrimonious relationship existing between him and Stevens. For years, they have sparred over opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, McCain's opposition to earmarks and their differing positions on global warming. McCain's personal bias against Stevens is flagrant. Palin's presence on the ticket has not changed McCain's mind on ANWR. Indeed, according to another Anchorage Daily News story, Palin's influence is actually waning since she is being increasingly perceived as a drag on the ticket, alienating all except strict social conservatives.

Ted Stevens continues to assert his innocence and intends to appeal the conviction. However, the conviction is already turning Alaskans against him. In an unscientific poll conducted by KTUU Channel 2 on October 27th, seventy percent of respondents agreed that the jury correct in finding Sen. Ted Stevens guilty. This would suggest the possibility that Democratic opponent Mark Begich, who's been involved in a nip-and-tuck battle with Stevens, might end up winning by a landslide.

However, while Begich is unquestionably in the catbird seat, talk of a "landslide" may be excessively optimistic. The political skeletons in Begich's closet have essentially remained shuttered from public view primarily because of a sympathetic local media, particularly the Anchorage Daily News, which has run interference for Begich by censoring unfavorable stories about him. The failure of ADN to report the story of Assemblyman Bill Starr's claims that Begich's office unlawfully changed pay rates, work rules and overtime allowances for certain contract employees is a flagrant example; while KTUU covered it, ADN hasn't bothered with it. Starr wants an internal audit to determine if, amongst other things, these favored contract employees just happened to "coincidentally" contribute to Begich's senatorial campaign.

In addition, other instances of possible Begich chicanery have been documented by the MarkBegichFacts website, operated by the partisan National Republican Senatorial Committee, and by House District 31 candidate Daniel DeNardo in this YouTube video. Since DeNardo is not running against Begich, his political interest is not personally-vested. So even if Mark Begich wins the election, much of the vote would be more of a vote against Ted Stevens rather than a vote for Begich. And the margin of victory may be narrower than most would expect.

Perhaps the only real difference between Ted Stevens and Mark Begich is that Begich hasn't been indicted...yet.

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