Alaska Republicans Get a Palin Booster

Posted September 1, 2008 at 7:36pm

Just two weeks ago, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) had already opened five campaign offices in Alaska.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) still has not opened a single one. With Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as his running mate, he might not need to do so.

Just a week ago, for the first time in the state’s history, Alaska Democrats had a shot at the at-large Congressional seat, a Senate seat and even the state’s three electoral votes for the presidency.

But with the popular Palin now on the ticket, political analysts say Sen. Ted Stevens (R), as well as the GOP nominee for the at-large seat — Rep. Don Young or Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell — could get a sizable boost in the general election this November.

Republican pollster Marc Hellenthal, based in Anchorage, said that having Palin on the ballot can only help Republicans such as Stevens, Young and Parnell. He said Palin has approval ratings higher than anyone he has ever seen: At her worst, she had a 79 percent approval rating and a 10 percent disapproval rating.

“It’s the old-fashioned Political Science 101 coattails effect,” Hellenthal said.

Stevens faces the toughest re-election challenge of his career from Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich — arguably the most popular Democrat in the state. The seven-term Senator will start his federal trial at the end of September for allegedly providing false information about home improvements on his financial disclosure forms.

Public polls have shown Begich with a double-digit lead over Stevens since the Justice Department charged the Senator in late July.

“I think it would help Ted, because he’s got a higher profile than Don,” Hellenthal said.

But making the case that Palin helps Republicans in the at-large seat is as uncertain as the nominee.

A week after the Aug. 26 GOP primary, Young leads Parnell by about 150 votes with about 8,000 absentee and provisional ballots to be counted by the end of next week. The winner of the GOP primary will face former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz (D) this fall. Public polling shows Berkowitz in a tight race with Parnell but ahead of Young.

Palin and Young have a history of feuding; she was Parnell’s most vocal supporter in his bid against the 18-term Congressman. Hellenthal said that while Palin’s candidacy helps Young, it would have a larger effect on Parnell because he is so closely associated with the governor.

“I really do think it’s all good for Alaskans, whether it’s for my race or for Alaska in general,” Parnell said in a phone interview on Sunday afternoon. “I certainly view her being there as a positive for my Congressional race and for Republicans in general.”

Neither Stevens’ nor Young’s staff returned calls for comment for this story.

Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D), however, said Palin’s presence on the ticket might not have as much effect as anticipated.

“However they vote on the presidential ballot is one thing, but the feelings they have doesn’t necessarily carry over to the Senator or the Congressman,” Knowles said. “So it may not have the same affect as some people might think at first.”

He said Palin, after all, is not atop the ticket and McCain came in fourth in the state’s GOP caucuses in February. Knowles said he could see people supporting Palin, but only as the state’s governor, not the nation’s vice president.

“The importance of the position is that you can well be president,” Knowles said. “I think people can support her as governor and be very excited at that, but at the same time have very serious concerns about her qualifications for president.”

If Parnell wins, Palin has already planned to promote Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg to lieutenant governor.

If Parnell loses but the McCain/Palin ticket wins in November, Parnell would succeed Palin as governor.

If both Palin and Parnell are elected, Colberg would become the acting governor, with a special election in 60 to 90 days to fill the office of both governor and lieutenant governor.