Sen. Begich Tells TPM McAdams Can Beat Joe Miller: ‘People Always Underestimate Alaska’

US Senate Photo/Jeff McEvoy
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Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) didn’t need to be asked — when it was clear Joe Miller would be the Republican Senate nominee, he picked up the phone and started raising money for Scott McAdams. While Democratic staffers are heading to Alaska, the national party hasn’t paid McAdams much attention — yet.

But Begich thinks McAdams has a chance to turn Alaska blue. “It’s a huge opportunity,” Begich told TPM in an interview.

When Begich jumped into the race to unseat a longtime senator in 2008, the line from national Democrats was, “Alaska? Good luck with that,” Begich told TPM in an interview. In fact, all signs pointed to him losing on election night two years ago. “The establishment always says it’s a state that can’t be won, and when I lost election night we were written off,” Begich said. But after all the votes were counted, Begich was the next senator from Alaska.“People always underestimate Alaska,” Begich said.

Miller unseated Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary, prevailing by several thousand votes after being boosted by the tea party. The Republicans have pledged to unify — though Murkowski has not yet endorsed the man who defeated her — and are poking at the Democrats because the DNC spokesman didn’t know McAdams’ name.

(The GOP also is pleased that McAdams had an unfortunate interview with Real Clear Politics, during which he told the reporter he’d have to get back to him on his position on Afghanistan, and didn’t answer how he would have voted for health care reform.)

For the DSCC to get involved, it’s about polls and dollars. The DSCC will not be releasing its internal polling from last week, so it’s hard to know what they are seeing. It’s likely they got a glance at what’s been reflected in the public polling — McAdams, the mayor of Sitka, remains relatively unknown to voters but could have a shot. “You can get known pretty quick,” Begich said.

What’s more, polling shows voters familiar with Miller view him as extreme, even though he also remains far less known than Murkowski.

Begich said he’s looked at the numbers and he thinks McAdams can pick off nearly half of Murkowski voters. “This is for a guy they don’t know,” he said.

As for the money, McAdams is suddenly No. 1 on Act Blue’s “Hot Candidates” list, having already pulled in $138,000 and counting as of Monday. An Act Blue spokesman said the average donation has been less than $100. Compare that with Begich’s $300,000 ActBlue haul in 2008, which “goes a long way in Alaska,” ActBlue’s Adrian Arroyo said.

“That tells me there’s a lot of interest,” Begich told TPM. “We have as good of a shot as any race in this country.”

“One role I can play is helping raise money, and I’m not bashful about that,” Begich said.

Begich’s state director Susanne Fleek-Green told the Washington Post she signed up right away to work for McAdams. Fleek-Green said she’s “energized” by the race and she’s joined by Begich deputy chief of staff Leslie Ridle, who is volunteering for McAdams.

“McAdams is authentic and as a former mayor, well, with all due respect to my friends in the Senate, we don’t need any more lawyers in the Senate,” Begich said. Miller is a lawyer who has never held public office.

Begich is convinced that Miller’s surprise victory has more to do with the abortion ballot measure requiring parental notification than it has to do with Sarah Palin. He noticed early on that Miller would bring up the measure in campaign speeches to gin up pro-life support.

There is no TPM Poll Average of the race yet because there have been so few polls, but you can view them here. Miller holds a lead, but pollsters are now saying that the race is within striking distance for the Democrats.

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