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A Senate Battle in Alaska?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

BEGICH TAKES FIRST STEP

A Senate Battle in Alaska?

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich yesterday took the first step toward challenging Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) in November, a race that would pit two of the best-known names in the state in a fierce battle the likes of which is rarely seen in the Last Frontier.

Begich, a Democrat, formed an exploratory committee, a move that will allow him to raise money and travel the state in the coming weeks. He is expected to make a final decision on the race by the spring.

Politicians "have a lot of opinions about what we think, but that is part of the frustration with Alaskans," Begich said shortly after announcing his intentions. "I want to make sure everyone gets heard."

Begich, the mayor of Alaska's most populous city since 2003, is the son of the late Rep. Nick Begich (D-Alaska), who was killed in a plane crash in 1972. Stevens has held a seat in the Senate for the past four decades, and his constituents often refer to him as "Uncle Ted."

In Stevens's past reelection contests, Democrats were often hard pressed to find even a sacrificial lamb to challenge the powerful incumbent, whose reputation for bringing federal dollars to Alaska is legendary.

So legendary, in fact, that his statement after Begich's announcement directly referred to his sway within the party. "Alaska is a small state which is a long way from Washington," Stevens said. "We need a Senator who knows Alaska and Washington and who has the experience and clout to be able to protect our state from day one."

But, much has changed in Alaska politics over the past two years. The state Republican party has been thrown into turmoil over a pay-to-play lobbying scandal centered on Veco, an Alaska-based energy services company.

Stevens confirmed last summer that federal officials asked him to retain records pertaining to Veco, and less than two months later investigators raided his Alaska home in connection with the probe.

-- Chris Cillizza

EVANGELICAL SUPPORT

Tex. Pastor Endorses McCain

John McCain picked up the support of Texas pastor John Hagee, an evangelical Christian who has made support for the state of Israel a centerpiece of his ministry.

"John McCain has publicly stated his support of the state of Israel, pledging that his administration will not permit Iran to have nuclear weapons to fulfill the evil dreams of President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map," Hagee, a televangelist and the pastor of Cornerstone Church, told reporters.

Hagee's endorsement could be of particular help to McCain in Texas, where the Arizona senator will face former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on Tuesday. Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, has succeeded over the past two months in appealing to evangelical and conservative Christian voters, highlighting a schism in the Republican party. Huckabee was especially successful in the South and in Virginia, where he earned a 40 percent lead over McCain among conservative voters.

But with little doubt about McCain becoming the nominee, conservatives have begun to flock to his side. Asked what McCain could do to appeal to other religious conservatives, Hagee said he was confident that McCain's support for abortion restrictions and for Israel would help.

-- Michael D. Shear

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