Begich sees close vote in Senate election

REGIONAL RALLIES: Supporters believe every ballot will count.

October 30, 2008 

"Happy Days are Here Again."

"When You're Smiling."

"Ain't Misbehavin'."

The set list of songs said it all at Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich's downtown campaign rally Wednesday night, where the Snapping Turtles Swing Band performed for roughly 300 of the hard-core Begich faithful.

Two days after a Washington, D.C., jury found Begich's Senate race rival, Sen. Ted Stevens, guilty on seven felony counts, Begich looked to invigorate and focus an already optimistic crowd.

"This, in my view is the most critical election in our state's history," he said from a red-white-and-blue stage at the carpenters union hall. "It's talking about the next 20 to 30 years and how we're going to get out of this economic mess, this energy crisis."

The mayor and his camp looked to deliver another message too: Don't count Stevens out.

"This campaign's been very fluid," Begich said after the event, reacting to new national poll numbers that showed him pulling ahead since the verdict. "I've always said from the Day 1 to today ... this election's going to be close."

The rally was one of a series of regional shindigs the campaign is holding as part of an 11th-hour push to make sure supporters actually cast their ballots Tuesday. Begich held a similar event in Fairbanks on Sunday, and plans another in Juneau Friday.

City employees, union workers, Democratic lawmakers and Barack Obama supporters crowded elbow to elbow to hear the brief speech and to volunteer in the waning days of the election. As the event began, Schanel Pollard, Miss Black Alaska 2008, stacked Begich stickers on a picnic table near the entrance.

Volunteers sliced an American flag cake into squares, and a man walked through the crowd, handing out bumper stickers that read "Convic-Ted: Vote True Blue."

Deadra Hall, a 34-year-old who works for the state Office of Children's Services, held her young son Cannon while waiting for the speech to begin. A longtime Democrat and Begich supporter, she pronounced Stevens' career over.

"Politically, he's done. If we re-elect him, he's going to be removed," she said as Cannon chewed the wooden stem of a flag.

The feds indicted Stevens early in the campaign, and the trial kept the 40-year senator in Washington for weeks. Begich has largely avoided attacking Stevens, leaving that to the state Democratic Party and the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"He's letting Sarah do his dirty work for him," joked Democratic blogger Linda Kellen Biegel, referring to Gov. Sarah Palin's call for Stevens to resign.

Begich told supporters the election is "not about a trial -- it's not about the outcome of a trial." Afterward he said Stevens' judgment grew cloudy in office, but that a recent campaign ad that references the verdict will be as strongly worded as his campaign gets in the final days of the election.


Find Kyle Hopkins' political blog online at adn.com/alaskapolitics or call him at 257-4334.

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