As the New Year beckons, the race for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Sen. Mark Begich is well under way -- and has been for a very long time.
Alaska is a relatively cheap political date when it comes to Senate seats but with new campaign finance rules the fight over Begich's seat will be heated and expensive. It likely will be the most costly in Alaska history, eclipsing even the knock-down, drag-out fracas in 2004 pitting Tony Knowles against Senate incumbent Lisa Murkowski -- when spending soared well above $10 million.
Begich, a former Anchorage mayor, narrowly won his Senate seat in 2008, barely a week after then-incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted in a sham federal corruption trial. Republicans see Begich as vulnerable in a state where a majority of the electorate views itself as conservative. His win over Stevens -- whose shadow dogs Begich's every step -- carries with it a big asterisk.
Make no mistake, Begich is savvy and a premier politician. Despite his party, he says he supports guns and the oil industry. He will be a challenge for the GOP in 2014 despite a trainful of baggage.
Pundits and others with nothing to do always are looking for Republicans to challenge Begich.
Gov. Sean Parnell tops the list but has problems. If he says he is running against Begich, the Legislature will ignore him even more than now. His failure to fix Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share oil tax is a textbook example of limp leadership. Instead of hurling lightning and calling down thunder, he is prone to dither, dawdle and fire off nastygrams.
He rode into statewide politics on former demi-Gov. Sarah Palin's skirt hems as her lite gov. When she bailed in 2009 because -- take your pick -- people were mean, to run for vice president, or, to get rich, Parnell inherited the mansion keys.
Dubbed Captain Zero by Congressman Don Young when the two tangled over Young's seat in 2008, Parnell snagged Alaska's top executive spot in 2010 by hunkering down and hiding. It paid off with Alaskans weary of Palin's incessant yammering. It will not work against Begich.
Other possibilities include Mead Treadwell, Alaska's current lieutenant governor. He announced at a mining and minerals conference in Fairbanks last month that he would like to challenge Begich -- and even has an exploratory committee.
Treadwell was chairman of the prestigious U.S. Arctic Research Commission and has been an unusually visible second fiddle -- so much so that he received a Parnell nastygram after being too visible.
Treadwell has been hosting radio talk shows, opening art exhibits, speaking to business and mining groups, welcoming troops home and keeping his mug in the news.
Then there are the Dan Sullivans -- Anchorage Mayor Dan and state Natural Resources Commissioner Dan.
Mayor Dan first was elected mayor in 2009 -- after three Assembly terms -- and has managed the city successfully despite a fiscal quagmire left by his predecessor, Mark Begich.
The biggest rap against Mayor Dan is his age. He is 61, long in the tooth to be starting a Senate career, especially when it takes a few terms to amass seniority necessary to be of much use to Alaska.
DNR Dan? Almost too good to be true. He was Alaska's attorney general a few years ago and now runs one of the state's most important departments.?
He has been everywhere and done everything. He was U.S. assistant secretary of state for economic, energy, and business affairs, a senior adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And then this; then that.
He has a whole chapter in "Who's Who." You have to wonder why he would bother with Alaska. I keep looking for him on "America's Most Wanted."
At the bottom of the barrel, there is failed former Senate candidate Joe Miller, who has a Bronze Star. Miller got thumped by Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010 when she won an historic write-in general election battle after losing the GOP primary nomination to him.
Miller, a Palin guy, always is trotted out as possible Begich cannon fodder but those days may be over. A few days back, he trashed the National Rifle Association as a threat to gun liberty and called its top executive a charlatan. If anything will drive a stake through his political heart in Alaska, that should do it.
Let the games begin.
Heaven help us all.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.