- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2008


With a competitive race looming, Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, stands a fair chance of being unseated. The FBI raided his home in July in connection with a federal anticorruption investigation; there is speculation about a coming indictment. The once-unlikely prospect of the seven-term Alaska Republican’s defeat shouts “Democratic supermajority” in some conservative ears. But those same observers should realize that a loss here — presuming Mr. Stevens makes it to November — would also have its upside.

At a time when, on average, more than nine of every 10 sitting members of Congress can expect to be re-elected merely by avoiding scandal, the travails of scandalized Republicans have unintentionally raised the possibility of a leaner, more credible Republican Party at some not-so-distant point in the future.

Not that the choice is necessarily in the hands of the Republican Party in this particular case. Alaska, generally considered a Republican bastion by political handicappers, could prove to be one of those cases where the undue comfort of a dominant party contributes to a surprise. Former Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat who announced his candidacy formally Monday, came in neck-and-neck in a recent Rasmussen Reports telephone survey with 45 percent compared to Mr. Stevens’ 46. The incumbent still has a sizable fund-raising advantage. But Alaska is perhaps not so monolithic as its reputation.

Alaska has voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since statehood except for 1964; the Cook Political Report rates its at-large House seat “R+14” and its entire (three-member) congressional delegation is Republican. But the composition of its legislature is more even: 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats in the state Senate compared with 23 Republicans and 17 Democrats in the House. The ratio in other states on the short list for the most heavily Republican (Idaho, Utah) is much more lopsided. President Bush took 61 percent of the 2004 vote, but in the 1990s, the margins were somewhat slimmer. Bob Dole took only 51 percent in 1996; George H.W. Bush took 56 percent in 1992.

What the Stevens episode means for the Republican Party is essentially up to its members. A party stripped of the people who grew most comfortable in power should be the road out of the Republicans’ “Bridge to Nowhere” era. Whether that lesson is taken to heart, and is not lost amid the clambering to avoid a supermajority on the other side of the aisle, remains to be seen.

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