- - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sen. Mark Begich is pressing his luck. The Alaska Democrat is running this fall for re-election to a seat that he won by being in the right place at the right time. The state’s Republicans will decide next week whether a Tea Party candidate or an establishment candidate has the best shot at reclaiming what they see as rightfully theirs in November.

The only reason Mr. Begich is Alaska’s junior senator today is that he filed the paperwork to challenge then-Sen. Ted Stevens six years ago when he had no hope of success. Mr. Stevens enjoyed the support of three out of four Alaskan voters, and it took a federal indictment for corruption (later overturned) to sour the public enough to give Mr. Begich a win — barely.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former state Attorney General Daniel S. Sullivan are flying the establishment banner in the Aug. 19 Republican primary. A recent Public Policy Polling survey showed they were ahead with 35 percent and 29 percent of the GOP vote, respectively. For the Tea Party, Joe Miller, a Gulf War veteran and former federal judge, is behind at 20 percent, but there are enough undecided voters to put him over the top.

Alaskans ought to strongly consider contrasting a lucky opportunist like Mr. Begich with the most principled conservative they can find in the general election. Mr. Begich radiates desperation. In a recent advertisement, he pretends that he’s best friends with Alaska’s popular Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. That irritated Mrs. Murkowski so much that her lawyers dashed off a cease-and-desist letter, saying the misleading ad violated federal laws and ethics rules.

In his other ad, Mr. Begich positions himself as the abortion candidate, claiming his rivals are “against funding for Planned Parenthood.” Which is to say, they wouldn’t force taxpayers to pay for abortions. It’s hard to see how that’s a winning issue in Alaska, where the abortion rate is 26 percent lower than the national average, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Throughout his career, Mr. Begich has had a tin ear for public opinion. When he was a member of the city council in Anchorage, he was behind the effort to install speed cameras, a policy so universally hated that residents forced a referendum onto the ballot to kick out the cameras. Judges were equally furious. The state’s second-highest court declared the cash-raising scheme illegal.

No wonder Mr. Begich’s job-approval rating now comes in at a dismal 43 percent, only slightly higher than President Obama’s 35 percent favorable rating in Alaska. Mr. Begich has voted with the president 97 percent of the time, a record that will do him no favors in November.

That’s why the winner of next week’s Republican primary has a strong chance of putting an end to a lucky streak that should have ended six years ago.