Today must be sweet indeed for Sen. Mark Begich, a guy whose 2014 re-election chances until recently were as bleak as winter in Shaktoolik. He is, after all, a very blue guy in a very red state.
Lucky for him, Republicans, as they are wont to do, routinely snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Alaska Republican Party is a good example.
The party, over the years a stable, growing political institution, was hijacked in a Ron Paul blitzkrieg at its recent convention. Without warning, the party shoehorned itself into a bright red clown car and careered over a cliff. At the wheel? None other than Joe Miller -- who, by the way, has a Bronze Star.
Paul's supporters arrived bright-eyed, idealistic and in record numbers. They hoped to change party rules, rid it of faux Republicans -- haters of free markets and liberty -- and they wanted to snare the state's 24 delegates for their guy at the August national convention in Tampa. They failed to change the rules and won only six delegates -- the ones they pocketed at the GOP presidential preference poll in March. They will have a negligible impact, but -- surprise! -- they are running the Alaska GOP.
You already can see the impact. Paul's supporters and Miller's tea party pals made fools of themselves and embarrassed Alaska by heckling Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an invited speaker. They made it worse by booing U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, as he tried to speak over rude ninnies shouting, "Ron Paul, Ron Paul."
Miller and his wife, Kathleen, were seen working the crowd. She, by one account wearing a Ron Paul sticker, was tapped as one of Alaska's three Electoral College electors.
Randy Ruedrich, head of the party since 2000 and credited with its solid growth, announced he was stepping down and when the dust settled, his choice for a successor was buried in the Ron Paul landslide.
Chairman-elect Russ Millette, a Paul guy unknown to most longtime state Republicans, will take the party's reins in 2013. His ascension is problematic. He has not participated in party politics in Alaska. He has not held elective office. How he is expected to raise money for the party is anybody's guess. Debbie Holland-Brown, another Paul supporter, was elected co-chair. They present a thorny question. Are they dedicated to the party or simply Ron Paul operatives who will bail out after the election?
Miller and the tea party hooking up with the Paul crowd and corralling the state Republican Party is great news for Begich -- but it could be grim tidings for GOP Senate hopefuls eyeing his seat.
Where were they while Miller was grabbing for the brass ring? Even Sarah Palin, who moved heaven and earth to dump Ruedrich a few years ago and replace him with one of her own, understood the importance of the state party. Ideally, a governor and state party chairman are thick as thieves.
For Miller, having the GOP behind him would make tackling Begich doable. (It also would be perhaps the one thing that could absolutely, positively guarantee Begich's re- election.)
Many Alaskans remain leery of Begich. A Democrat, he won office only by about 3,000 votes on the heels of former Sen. Ted Stevens' wrongful conviction on seven counts of making false statements. A judge set aside the verdict, dismissed the indictment with prejudice and filed contempt citations against the case's prosecutors, accusing them of misconduct -- but the damage was done. Many are troubled by the events that led to Stevens' defeat and look askance at the beneficiary of the odd happenings -- Begich.
He is seen as vulnerable, but where were his possible challengers at the convention? Where were the organizations? The operatives? The effort? The speeches? The politicking? Gov. Sean Parnell, fresh from a legislative thrashing, made no splash, nor did Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan or Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. They abdicated their role in the Alaska GOP and, if they decide to run against Begich, it will cost them. They will not be able to count on their own party. Joe Miller's pals own it
If Miller is the GOP's guy in 2014, Begich wins in a walk. From political rags to political riches. Nobody has forgotten Miller has burned -- with a tip of the hat to Jimmy Kimmel -- more bridges than the arsonist of Madison County.
Today must be sweet indeed for Sen. Mark Begich.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.