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September 08, 2008

Palin's AK Coattails: Helping Dems?

Forget the indictment, Senator Ted Stevens is still Uncle Ted to Alaska voters. A new poll suggests Democrats will have a tougher time getting rid of the long-time incumbent than once thought.

The survey, conducted 8/30-9/2 by Ivan Moore Research, a Democratic-leaning firm, polled 500 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. In the Senate contest, Stevens was matched up against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. In the House race, Young and fellow Republican Sean Parnell are matched up with former State House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz. Young currently leads Parnell by 239 votes out of more than 100,000 cast, though late absentees have until Wednesday to trickle in.

General Election Matchup
Begich............49 (-7 since last, 8/12)
Stevens...........46 (+7)

Berkowitz.........54 (+3)
Young.............37 (-4)

Parnell...........49 (+3)
Berkowitz.........38 (-4)


If Young's narrow lead in the primary holds up, Democrats are in great position to take the seat from the GOP. But if Parnell, the state's Lieutenant Governor, somehow pulls out a come-from-behind win, national Democrats could become a scarce presence in Alaska. Parnell, like GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is highly popular among independent voters in the state (The same poll, by the way, showed Palin's home-state approval rating at 82% positive to just 13% negative).

The results from the Senate race show a big Stevens bounce-back after his July 29 indictment and his July 31 not guilty plea. In a heavily Republican state, even Uncle Ted gets the benefit of the doubt, meaning Begich is going to have to run a nearly flawless campaign to steal a six-year term.

The great unanswered question: What effect will Palin's presence atop the ticket have on Stevens' and Young's performance? Palin took what might have been a close presidential race in the state (At least Barack Obama was interested in investing there) and made it a blowout. So conventional wisdom would suggest that Palin helps the Republican ticket.

But Palin, Young and Stevens aren't the closest of political allies. Palin endorsed Parnell in his primary against Young, and she has pointedly refused to say whether she will endorse, or even vote for, Stevens (Requests for comments from The Scorecard went unanswered as well). Any Republican voting for McCain because of Palin was likely coming out to vote anyway. Any independent voter who switches his or her vote because of the governor might be moved by the reform mantra of the GOP ticket. In that case, might Palin actually help Democrats in Alaska, or at least be a wash?