McAdams Shows Fight but Proves Hesitant on Policy

McAdams Shows Fight but Proves Hesitant on Policy

By Scott Conroy - September 3, 2010

He is unknown, unseasoned, and unrevealing on some of the most pressing national issues of the day, but could Alaska Democratic Senate nominee Scott McAdams have what it takes to complete one more upset in the tumultuous Alaska Senate race by taking down Joe Miller on Nov. 2?

A former commercial fishing boat deckhand, high school football coach, and father of three, the imposing, broad-shouldered McAdams certainly fits the bill as a dyed-in-the-wool Alaskan.

Though he may not be well known outside Sitka, a picturesque hideaway tucked in the southeast Alaska panhandle with a population of about 9,000, McAdams pointed out in an interview with RealClearPolitics on Thursday that the city he presides over as mayor is "about the size of Wasilla."

McAdams has taken leave without pay from his day job and moved to Anchorage, which will serve as his campaign's base, and he says that he has already put together a professional staff that can effectively challenge Miller, who pulled off a shocking upset over incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary.

After all, few gave the previously unknown and underfunded Fairbanks attorney much of a chance to defeat Murkowski, but Miller did just that with the help of a late push from Sarah Palin and a $600,000 ad buy from the Tea Party Express.

"We're gonna raise between $750,000 and $1 million in our campaign--we raised $100,000 this week," McAdams said. "If you talk about a $500,000 media buy for a Senate seat, that same media buy in the state of California is a $20 million proposition."

Alaska Democrats had initially tried to recruit better-known candidates to appear on the Senate ballot, but when they were rebuffed, McAdams stepped to the plate enthusiastically.

When Miller's victory seemed to give Democrats a rare opportunity to contest earnestly a Republican-held Senate seat, members of the state party met to discuss whether McAdams should be replaced on the ballot. They shot the idea down, confident that their nominee had enough substance to compete and could build name recognition over the next two months.

McAdams touts his record for delivering balanced budgets, his support for environmentally responsible resource development, and a proposal to consider filibuster reform in the Senate.

But in the interview with RealClearPolitics, he demonstrated an unwillingness to answer some of the most basic policy questions that have permeated the national debate in recent months.

Asked if he would have voted for national health care reform, McAdams paused for a full 10 seconds before replying, "Let's see. One moment please."

Another 15 seconds of silence came next, before McAdams finally asked to hear the reporter's next question.

Asked next for his views on Afghanistan and TARP, McAdams said, "Why don't you let me get back to you on that."

Calls to the McAdams campaign and the Alaska Democratic Party asking for clarification were unreturned as of late Thursday night.

One area in which McAdams makes his views clear is his support for the continued solicitation of federally funded projects in Alaska.

Government largesse is an issue on which he might make some headway against Miller, who focused his primary campaign on a promise to combat excessive spending and a desire to see Alaska become more self-reliant.

"There's moderates, independents, and Republicans all over the state that are coming to our campaign because they recognize that this guy's statement that he'd like to reduce congressionally vetted appropriations to Alaska is flat-out dangerous to our economy," McAdams said. "It's hard to imagine the development of the American West without those infrastructure projects, and Alaska really has, I think, a case to be made before the federal government for federal investment in our state. And the fact that this guy would stop that I think is shortsighted and it really speaks to his narrow view of what Alaska is."

Though it may be counterintuitive to consider the Alaska Senate seat a possible Democratic pickup in an election year when Democrats are being forced to vigorously defend seats in California and Washington, Alaska politics are often unpredictable, and the state has a proud independent streak that could serve McAdams well.

A Rasmussen poll of 500 likely voters released on Monday showed Miller holding onto a narrow six-point lead over McAdams, and national Democrats are following the race closely as they consider whether to make a serious investment in it.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich said he was working with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and others to encourage them to offer McAdams the additional financial support he would need to mount a credible challenge.

In the interview with RealClearPolitics, McAdams made it clear that he would take steps to distance himself from the White House and congressional leadership.

"The national Democratic agenda isn't something that is necessarily the Alaska Democratic agenda," he said. "Many of our values are similar, many of them are different. But we're getting out, talking to Alaskans, building votes one at a time. You know, Joe Miller's the guy who's running on a national tea party platform."

Asked whether he plans to debate Miller, McAdams said that he was "not sure."

What is clear is that McAdams' strategy will largely rest on the active courtship of Murkowski supporters who may have been turned off by Miller's attacks and those who consider his views to be too conservative.

"I personally believe that I am more closely aligned to Lisa Murkowski than Joe Miller is," McAdams said. "I think he is so far to the right that people are losing sight of where he's at."

Murkowski has thus far declined to endorse in the race.

Asked if there was a chance that the Republican senator might consider crossing party lines to back the Democrat, McAdams' new spokesperson Heather Handyside seemed to leave the door open to what would seem an unlikely, if compelling possibility.

"We would welcome that, but there's no movement there at this time," Handyside said.

Of course, there is another Alaska Republican who figures to hold more than a little sway in the general election. But McAdams is banking on the idea that the magic wand which Palin seemed to wave so effectively in the primary will not work quite as well in November.

"I'm the guy who has served as a mayor; I'm the guy who's been a locally elected leader for eight years," McAdams said. "He's the guy who's a Yale attorney, so it's pretty ironic that in campaign '08, as much as Sarah Palin talked about the values of serving as a small-town mayor, that she's now supporting an Ivy League lawyer with no experience at all."

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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