Liberal Democrat Mark Begich is praying for a second lightning strike in this cherry-red state as he struggles to transmogrify himself -- zaaaap! -- into something more palatable to Alaskans than a tax-and-spender beholden to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama.
Begich wants, even needs, Alaskans to embrace him as something of a moderate, an everyman, a -- heaven forgive me -- Mark Murkowski, of sorts. Sidelined and politically neutered by Reid’s protective instincts in this election year, Begich has decided the best way to polish his creds is to surf Lisa Murkowski’s wake. If he can hurt her politically in the process, if he can damage her re-election chances down the road, hey, so much the better.
She is, after all, liked by Republicans and Democrats, with one pollster opining she may be the most popular politician in the state. More important, she attracts votes from the political middle -- nonpartisan, independent and undeclared voters, the very people Begich needs in November.
The problem? He is becoming a bit of a political stalker, the unshakably embarrassing and creepy suitor who shows up unexpectedly and simply refuses to go away -- and people are beginning to notice.
"No, really," you can almost hear him saying plaintively to anyone who will listen, "Lisa Murkowski and I were meant for each other. We are the same -- at least 80 percent of the time. Honest. Ich bin ein Murkowski."
The Murkowski-Begich duo, our junior senator happily says, is a grand “team” on Alaska issues. They are, he says, nearly joined at the hip, voting together more often than not. She is he; he is she. He never mentions his lockstep votes with Reid and Obama.
For Murkowski’s part, she is growing increasingly weary of his hooking his fortunes to her star. The two are, after all, nothing alike, her backers will tell you. There are his big-spending ways -- stimulus giveaways come to mind -- his pivotal Obamacare vote, his EPA squishiness, his blocking the Keystone XL pipeline and voting down her sportsmen’s bill. Then there is his bothersome meddling and misleading Alaskans about her record as he skates along on her popularity. He has become a pain.
Begich is poison for Murkowski if she is considering re-election in 2016. He knows that. She might as well have scabies as repeatedly be compared to him. Murkowski unabashedly -- and pointedly, even by Washington standards -- makes no bones that she wants Begich to buzz off, that they are not BFFs, not even short-term chums. Her camp says he takes credit for things he has not done, that he follows her lead only for his own political benefit. Murkowski does not just want him to back off, she wants him defeated in November. It has turned personal.
“My goal, my desire is to see a Republican elected to this seat, and I am going to work hard to do that,” Murkowski, who has served in the Senate since 2002, told The Wall Street Journal.
“I just think he needs to run on his record -- and not mine,” she told Politico.
The record speaks for itself, Begich counters, and he continues, despite her protestations, to run ads linking the two. He says she never complained before. He dismisses her angst as election hyperventilation.
Lightning struck the first time for Begich in 2008 after a crooked Justice Department investigation wrongly muddied then-Sen. Ted Stevens’ reputation. Begich won that election by 3,953 votes.
This time around, the stakes are much higher. Senate control could swing with a single seat and Alaska is a battleground where, The New York Times estimates, more than $20 million will be spent by super PACS supporting Begich and the eventual GOP nominee. That does not include the millions being spent directly by the campaigns.
Begich most likely will face one of the three GOP primary candidates -- former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell or Joe Miller. The more he can appear to be Murkowski, Begich figures, the better his chances.
In the coming political storm, his problem is that Alaskans already know who he is and will figure out his game.
If Murkowski has her way, the lightning this time will just leave a smoking hole in the tundra.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com., a division of Porcaro Communications, which now is placing media for the Mead Treadwell campaign. Jenkins operates separately from work the agency does for clients.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.