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Conservative pollsters find Begich with strong re-election chances

Scott Woodham
Alaska's Democratic U.S. Senator, Mark Begich. October 22, 2012 Loren Holmes photo

A new political survey indicates that Alaska's Democrat in the U.S. Senate could have an easier time getting re-elected in 2014 than people may have first thought. The results of this early Senate poll are adding nationally to Alaska's reputation for confounding political stereotype, as well as boosting early enthusiasm for Sen. Mark Begich's next campaign.

The automated, statewide poll of likely Alaska voters was conducted by Harper Polling for Conservative Intelligence Briefing, and it asked 1,157 Alaskans about hypothetical match-ups between Begich and four prominent Alaska Republicans. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.88 percent. One Alaska commentator, Philip Munger of Progressive Alaska, has identified a somewhat glaring omission in the list of potential Begich challengers.

The lack of one Dan Sullivan or another aside, the part of the poll that's causing confusion among the national punditry is that Begich beat all comers except one, despite being a Democrat in conservative country and having been elected by luke-warm margin over an opponent who was convicted of public corruption shortly before Election Day. The only Republican to whom Begich lost in the head-to-head hypothetical match-ups was Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, by a count of 40 to 45 percent. Parnell has not indicated that he is considering challenging Begich.

Begich registered a 10-point advantage (44 to 34 percent) over the only person on the list who has yet made any moves toward a Senate run, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

If the election were held today, Begich would soundly beat failed 2010 GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller, 52 percent to 29 percent, according to the poll. The lopsided victory for Begich seems a product of Miller's dismal net favorability among Alaskans, which even among the state's Republicans came in at a net -9 percent. Such a deficit of goodwill for Miller comes as little surprise after the wheels came off his 2010 campaign so spectacularly.

Something in the poll that may surprise even Alaskans (or chill them to the bone) is the strong showing former Gov. Sarah Palin made against Begich, only trailing him by 6 percentage points if the election were held today, 40 to 46 percent.

National pundits have made hay recently about how Palin's star has burned out, and some data suggest that's true nationally and beyond. But the Harper poll indicates that Palin wouldn't conceivably have much in-state ground to make up against Begich and that she could stand a good chance in the Republican primary, enjoying solidly positive standing among Alaska Republicans, still, with 56 percent saying they view her favorably and 38 percent unfavorably.

The broader Alaska electorate is a different story, however, with Palin's favorability score coming in upside down at 34 percent favorable to 60 percent unfavorable. That net negative is surpassed in this poll only by Miller's overall net favorability, which wound up positively frigid at -35.

But what does this all mean for the only Republican on the list who actually appears likely to challenge Begich? What should Treadwell learn from the poll? He's got some work to do to boost name recognition, but a sizeable portion of likely voters have not made up their minds about him yet.

Fourteen percent of likely voters surveyed said they hadn't heard of the state's sitting lieutenant governor, and 28 percent said they had but had no opinion. For contrast, less than 1 percent of those surveyed had not heard of Palin, and only 5 percent knew her name but don't have an opinion.

Contact Scott Woodham at swoodham(at)alaskadispatch.com