WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED IN ALASKA? While we await the outcome of the Stevens-Begich Senate vote, the pundits -- incredulous that Alaskans may have re-elected Sen. Ted Stevens after he was found guilty of corruption -- are casting their opinions. Some are wondering about the relatively low Alaska voter turnout for a tumultuous election, others about the apparently failure of pre-election polling. Legal analysts are laying out Senate options in dealing with Stevens.
New York Times columnist Gail Collins starts off with the big question: "Alaska, are you re-electing Ted Stevens? What's going on there? Did you actually believe him when he said that the court verdict was still up in the air? On the day after he was found guilty? By the way, if Stevens does win, it will be with about 106,000 votes. In total. There are more people than that in my immediate neighborhood! What kind of state is this, anyway?"
Salon.com says "Something smells fishy in Alaska, and it's not the salmon," wondering if Alaskans were lying to pollsters, afraid to admit they would vote for a felon.
Homer blogger Shannyn Moore is raising the specter of a "stolen election" for Stevens. She's suspicious of an apparent drop in voter participation from the 2004 presidential election - from 66 percent then to 55 percent this week - even with Sarah Palin on the Republicans' national ticket.
That's a decrease of more than 11% in voter turnout even though passions ran high for and against Obama, as well as for and against Sarah Palin! This year, early voters set a new record. As of last Thursday, with 4 days left for early voting, 15,000 Alaskans showed up - shattering the old record set in 2004 by 28%! Consider the most popular governor in history-and now the most polarizing-was on the Republican ticket. Consider the historic nature of this race; the first African-American presidential candidate EVER! The second woman to ever make a presidential ticket; and she's one of our own. Despite that, we're supposed to believe that overall participation DECREASED by 11%. Not only that, but this historic election both nationally and for Alaska HAD THE LOWEST ALASKA TURNOUT FOR A PRESIDENTIAL RACE EVER!!! That makes sense. REALLY??? Something stinks.
But Shelly Growden, Alaska Division of Elections spokeswoman, tells ABC News that the current vote totals don't tell the full story.
At least 70,000 absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted, she said. ... She said she expects final 2008 turnout to have exceeded the 60.1 percent recorded in the 2000 election, though it still probably won't approach the numbers reached in 2004.
Alaska turnout, results raise questions (Washington Post)
Polling analyst Nate Silver, at his Web site FiveThirtyEight.com, wonders "What in the hell happened in Alaska?" and explores why the results of pre-election polling in the Senate, House and presidential races was so far off. Also: Pollsters miss mark in Alaska election (Anchorage Daily News)
The New York Times, in an editorial today headlined "The Unworthy Gentleman," calls for Stevens' immediate expulsion from the Senate. "The Senate could soon face the embarrassment of watching Stevens return as the first member ever re-elected after being found guilty of criminal charges. Before that, the august body should show bipartisan gumption and expel him."
And the St. Petersburg Times:"The facts of Stevens' case are well known, and they point to a man who traded on his status for a better lifestyle. Stevens exploited his office, and he should be removed."
Stevens has friends. Longtime friend Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii says he's backing Stevens in his battle to remain in the Senate "as long as the appeal is going on," he told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
For anyone wondering how Alaskans' could re-elect a felon, former Alaska journalist Carl Sampson has a column headlined "Stevens isn't such a bad guy" in the Statesman-Journal of Oregon.
I believe that, in his decades of representing Alaska in the Senate, he wasn't in it for himself. In the battles to assert Alaska's interests in a crowd of senators who couldn't care less about the 49th state, Stevens did a pretty darn good job.
Gov. Palin seems to have backed down from her pre-election call for Stevens to resign, saying last night that she is deferring to the voters who "want him as their senator" and that he should decide "what happens next."
If Stevens is expelled from the Senate or resigns, can Palin appoint herself to his seat temporarily, pending a special election? Gail Fenumiai, director of Alaska's Division of Elections, told CNN she believes that's possible. Slate's Explainer, though, says no, she can't, but Palin could resign first and have Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell appoint her. See the ADN article about conflicting Alaska laws regarding appointment here.
Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog covers the possible fates for Stevens at the hands of fellow senators -- the issue is more political than legal, he says -- and quotes a Congressional Research Service report that precedent favors Stevens should he want to stay on.
The Senate ... has expressed reticence to exercise the power of expulsion (but not censure) for conduct in a prior Congress when a senator has been elected or re-elected to the Senate after the member's conviction, when the electorate knew of the misconduct and still sent the member to the Senate. ... (That) appears to reflect the deference traditionally paid in our heritage to the popular will and election choice of the people.
Meanwhile, Juror 11 in the Stevens trial is blogging about it. Colleen Walsh was the alternate for the juror who lied about her father's death and left the deliberations. In an interview with Legal Times, she says Stevens hurt himself by testifying.
From the defense table he was a sympathetic character, "kind of hunched over and small," but on the stand "he was like a lion," Walsh said. The jury was turned off by his belligerence, she says. "We were all like, ‘Why is he testifying?'"
The jurors worried about sending Stevens to prison, enjoyed seeing Colin Powell and didn't feel the prosecution's one gaffe known to them was relevant. "We were told to focus on the facts. That's what we did," Walsh says.
GOP BLAME GAME HEATS UP: As the McCain campaign starts deconstructing its election loss, Gov. Palin's role is being blasted by unnamed advisers in many media reports. So far, Palin is refusing to address specific allegations, saying she's no diva and that anonymous sources don't deserve any attention. See her comments on arrival back in Anchorage last night here.
Fox News led the way yesterday, going into detail about what sources say is Palin's ignorance of government structure and of world geography - she thought Africa was a country and couldn't name the nations of North America. Fox also brings up alleged temper tantrums thrown by Palin as her pile of bad press clippings grew.
The New York Times begins with the prank phone call to Palin from a Montreal radio DJ impersonating French President Nicolas Sarkozy, McCain advisers saying she never informed them of the planned call and a Palin adviser saying it was right there in plain view on her schedule.
Whatever the truth, one thing is certain. Palin, who laughingly told the prankster that she could be president "maybe in eight years," was the catalyst for a civil war between her campaign and McCain's that raged from mid-September up until moments before Mr. McCain's concession speech on Tuesday night. By then, Palin was in only infrequent contact with McCain, top advisers said.
The Times, making it clear that finger-pointing in a losing campaign is traditional, says most allegations continue to center on the $150,000 Republican wardrobe budget for the Palin family (some reports are now saying it was more than that).
On Wednesday, two top McCain campaign advisers said that the clothing purchases for Palin and her family were a particular source of outrage for them. As they portrayed it, Palin had been advised by Nicolle Wallace, a senior McCain aide, that she should buy three new suits for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in September and three additional suits for the fall campaign. The budget for the clothes was anticipated to be from $20,000 to $25,000, the officials said.
The Times quotes the advisers as saying Republican National Committee lawyers are likely to come to Alaska to find the clothing and try to account for all the money spent.
Palin's interview with Katie Couric of CBS also comes up, with McCain advisers charging that Palin's team never gave her time to prepare for what turned out to be tough questioning.
Palin, who had prepared for and survived an initial interview with Charles Gibson of ABC News, did not have the time or focus to prepare for Couric, the McCain advisers said. "She did not say, ‘I will not prepare,' " a McCain adviser said. "She just didn't have a bandwidth to do a mock interview session the way we had prepared before. She was just overloaded."
The Los Angeles Times has more on the campaign's inside battle after the Montreal pranksters' phone call here. Palin aides also claim in the story that much of the clothing was delivered to Palin and she hadn't asked for lavish shopping on her behalf.
The Washington Post largely says out of the fray, quoting McCain friend and former campaign adviser John Weaver:
"In this media world that we live in, you can't take someone who has not had any exposure, who had not had any vetting, public and private, and strap her to a rocket."
Meanwhile, Palin's place in the GOP's future is being hotly debated across the country:
Palin's future uncertain amid GOP fray (San Francisco Chronicle)
"Now, more than any time I can remember, there is a vacuum of leadership in the Republican Party," said Mike Franc, a vice president for government relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. "And she is in the mix."
Where do Palin, GOP go from here? (Dallas Morning News)
With no clear front-runner for 2012, Palin will, at least for a time, become the focal point of discussion about the GOP's future. David Frum, a former Bush White House speechwriter, said Wednesday that Palin symbolized a problem bedeviling the Republican Party. "In the eyes of many college-educated white people, the people who Bush got in 2004 and whom the Republicans owned in the 1980s, the Republican Party has become a party of culture war. It's the party of 'drill, baby, drill,' so no environmental agenda," Frum told CNN.
The fundamentals of Sarah Palin are strong. Her conservative detractors -- Colin Powell, David Brooks, and Christopher Buckley among them -- were put off not by her personality but rather her lack of knowledge about certain national and foreign-policy issues. Such deficiencies can be addressed easily. Meanwhile, to use another McCainism, Palin was a surge for the ticket. Rally attendance skyrocketed. Approval ratings went up. Palin's convention speech attracted more viewers than Obama's. "I'll take it," said McCain adviser Mark Salter, looking back.
MUSHROOMS TO THE RESCUE: Science Daily reports this week on a study showing how fungi in northern spruce forests might help slow climate change.
When soil in these forests is warmed, fungi that feed on dead plant material dry out and produce significantly less climate-warming carbon dioxide than fungi in cooler, wetter soil. This came as a surprise to scientists, who expected warmer soil to emit larger amounts of carbon dioxide because extreme cold is believed to slow down the process by which fungi convert soil carbon into carbon dioxide.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM RECENT NEWSREADERS:
Hackers and Palin spending sprees (Newsweek)
Ayers decries GOP tactics, Palin charge (Washington Post)
Palin's 2012 Playbook (Newsweek)
Sarah Palin, last of the culture warriors (Washington Post)
More foreign relations for Kikkan Randall (Faster Skier)
Find previous Newsreader columns here.