Thursday, November 20, 2008

40 Years Distilled Into a Few Minutes

That's it, Mr. President, 40 years distilled into a few minutes. I close by saying and asking that God bless Alaska and our governor, God bless the United States of America and our president, and God bless the Senate and every member of this body.

I yield the floor for the last time.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mark Begich Elected to Senate

Bears and Ballots can now officially project that Mayor Mark Begich will win re-election over Republican incumbent Ted Stevens. With 100% of the precincts reporting and most of the early and absentee ballots counted, Mark Begich has 132,196 votes to Ted Stevens' 131,382. While there are a few thousand early and absentee votes still to be counted, it is unlikely that Ted Stevens will be able to win a large enough margin of these votes to make up the current deficit.

This victory represents a reaffirmation of what every pre-election poll had found. All polls conducted within four days of the election had Begich up by anywhere from 8 to 22 points. Some (such as myself) cautioned that they were probably inflating Begich's lead, and that this was a closer race than it appeared. These predictions were vindicated; my own prediction looks to be very close to the actual margin of victory.

Additionally, any other projections or posts I may have may in the immediate past that may directly contradict this one are hereby null and void, and we shall never mention them again.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ted Stevens Re-elected to 7th Term

Bears and Ballots can now officially project that Senator Ted Stevens will win re-election over democratic challenger Mark Begich. With 99% of the precincts reporting, Ted Stevens has 106,351 votes to Mark Begich's 102,998. While there are tens of thousands of early votes and absentee votes still to be counted, it is unlikely that Mark Begich will be able to win a large enough margin of these votes to make up the current deficit.

This victory represents a stunning departure from what every pre-election poll had found. All polls conducted within four days of the election had Begich up by anywhere from 8 to 22 points. While some (such as myself) cautioned that they were probably inflating Begich's lead, and that this was a closer race than it appeared, no of us could have expected what happened last night.

Various factors that played into this shocker, foremost among them the social undesirability of admitting to a pollster that one is voting for a felon, lest one engender sanctimonious, incredulous questions. The truth is that outside of that theory, which has never accounted for a discrepancy this great in the polls (the original social desirability distortion--the Bradley effect--was probably around fewer than 6 points; Stevens over-performed his polling average by nearly 14 points) we really have no concrete ideas of why what happened happened. Begich ran a fairly lazy campaign, and Stevens fought hard for every inch.

In any case, we now turn our gaze to a Senatorial showdown. Will the Senate muster the two-thirds majority needed to expel one of their own members? How many Senators can Stevens and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) sway? How many more Senators owe Stevens favors, or, like Ted Kennedy, are genuine friends with him?

If he is expelled, there will be a runoff election between Mark Begich and, if I had to guess, either Sarah Palin or Lt. Governor Sean Parnell (who performed well in pre-election polls against Ethan Berkowitz in the House race, but lost his primary to Don Young by a few tenths of a percent). We'll have to see how the Republicans determine their nominee--maybe we'll be treated to a primary between the Governor and her Lieutenant?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

SHOCK: Stevens Leads by 5,000 With 37% Reporting

Results are frustratingly slow in coming from Alaska tonight, but as of right now, with over a third of the precincts reporting, Ted Stevens in leading Mark Begich 54,101 votes to 49,741 votes. I've made contact with multiple sources on the ground in Alaska, and they told me before the polls even closed that they had a gut feeling that Stevens' chances were very real tonight. Begich has to hope that the more liberal, urban precincts in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and the Southeast are taking longer to count and report their totals than the more rural, conservative areas like the Kenai Peninsula. Right now there's also a significant gender gap, with female voters breaking 61-35 for Begich, and male voters giving Stevens the 51-44 nod.

I'll keep you posted.


Stevens has maintained his lead with 45% of the precincts reporting, though Begich has narrow it slightly, down to about 4,400 votes. This tightening is insignificant, however, as we approach the halfway mark of the state's reporting. Begich has to start making up ground quickly or we're going to see one of the biggest discrepancies between pre-election polls and the actual results in the history of American elections. It's not often a candidate ahead by 22 points just days before an election ends up losing.


Two-thirds of the precincts are in. Stevens still leads by about 3,000 votes, with 48% of the vote to Begich's 47%. While we watch these results come in, it's important to bear in mind that if Stevens does win, it's a near-certainty he will be expelled from the Senate by a two-thirds vote of his colleagues.


As the latest numbers come in, we can definitively say that Ted Stevens is now the electoral favorite in this race. With 72% of the precincts reporting, he has expanded his lead to about 4,600 votes, a 49% to 46% lead over an undoubtedly stunned Begich.


It's now a little past midnight in the land of the midnight sun, and the sun is setting on Begich's chances. While there are still 14,000 early votes to be counted, it appears that Ted Stevens may have inexplicably procured victory from God knows where. With 81% reporting, he leads by a count of 95,352 to 91,368. It will take a fairly unlikely combination of drastically late-reporting blue areas and a huge advantage in early votes for Begich to pull this out.


It is now one in the morning in Alaska. 96% of the precincts are reporting.

Senator Ted Stevens: 104,564
Mayor Mark Begich: 100,968

Monday, November 3, 2008

One for the Road

In fewer than 12 hours, hundreds of thousands of voters all across the state of Alaska will cast their votes for their choice of Senator, Congressman, and President of the United States. More people will cast votes in tomorrow's election than in any other in the history of the United States. It's time for the final predictions.

We've had three post-conviction polls come out in the past four days alone. A quick breakdown:

Rasmussen has Begich leading 52% to 44%, with Bob Bird garnering 3%.

Hays Research Group has Begich up 49% to 42% (with leaners).

Research 2000 has Begich up a stunning 22 points, 58% to 36%.

So, three fairly reliable, recent polls have Begich maintaining an average lead of 12.3%. This lead is probably closer to the high double digits, as the R2000 number is almost certainly an outlier. It's also important to remember that a significant fraction of the electorate cast their votes before Stevens' conviction, and are therefore unlikely to demonstrate such a steep lean towards either candidate. However, it appears that, barring a dead girl/live boy scenario in the next few hours, Mark Begich will follow his late father Nick to Washington and become the first Democratic Alaskan Senator since Mike Gravel.

Final prediction:
Begich 51%
Stevens 45%
Bird/other 4%

Either way, it's been incredibly fun. I'll have some post-election wrap-up posts in the aftermath, of course, but, after all these months, it's likely that the next time we meet we'll know who Alaska's next Senator will be.

What the Lower 48 is Missing

"It's just, I don't get it... how can you guys vote for a felon?"

No question is more common than that. Everyone I talk to from out of state comes at me with a mix of incredulity and a good bit of condescension when asking how "we" can possibly be so blind. I mean, have you Alaskans not read the news--he's a felon! I know it for sure! I saw it on CNN!

Alaskans do, in fact, watch the news. The difference is that they don't just see 18-second sound bytes on mainstream media outlets declaring Stevens to be guilty before moving on to a story about a cat in a tree or a teenage mother. They receive the news in context, as a continuous series of stories by local outlets following Stevens from the beginning of the trial to the end. They talk to their neighbors about it. It doesn't happen on a stage, far away and removed, where things are black and white; it happens right here, in their backyards and in their towns where they drive by buildings, roads, and bridges that wouldn't be here without Ted Stevens. When you take the end result of the equation out of context and look at it from the false premise of Alaska as what Edward Said called the Other, the inferior, the exotic, as many people do, then it's easy to see the decisions made by many Alaskans as ridiculous or crazy. It's even hard not to.

But, really, people are people anywhere. We all make the same decisions based on the same mechanisms of collecting and evaluating evidence. However, I'll humor the question for a moment, no matter how loaded its premise, presuppositions, and inherent classism. Let's take a small peek into Alaska, and try to give you some semblance of an answer.

A few days ago, a fellow Alaskan blogger over at Mudflats (the best Alaskan political blog outside of this one) attended the greet-Ted-at-the-airport rally held the night Stevens arrived at his airport from Washington, D.C. It wasn't even 48 hours after his conviction on seven felony counts.

In the airplane hangar where the welcoming party was taking place, over 600 people had gathered, including Senator Lisa Murkowski and a few other GOP dignitaries. The people were raucous:

Our emcee was Rick Rydell, a long-time conservative radio talk show icon. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t like outsiders telling me what to think!”[...] Then he went on to say that there were people that call his radio show all the time and say, “How can you not think Ted is guilty?” and then he says, “Why do you think he IS guilty? And then they tell him, ‘I read it on the internet and the Anchorage Daily News.” Laughter and scorn from the audience. And finally he reminded the crowd that “the prosecutors don’t know Ted…I know Ted, and I choose to believe him.”

That last line is the truly crucial one. It beautifully encapsulates the paradigm that a lot of Alaskans are working from right now, based on these basic assumptions, where 'you' is the Lower 48, from the prosecutors to the media:
1. You don't know us.
2. Ted Stevens is one of us.
3. You don't know Ted Stevens.
4. For that matter, you don't know me either, and you're not telling me how to vote.

Read on:

I snapped a picture of the crowd, and a lady grabbed my arm. “You should take a picture of those t-shirts!” she beamed. “Did you see them?? They’re great! They say ‘Fuck the Feds! Vote for Ted!’”


Friday, October 31, 2008

Stevens Denies (Clarifies?) Conviction at Debate

Ted Stevens and Mark Begich finally got their chance to debate one another in person last night. Because of the timeliness of this post, there are few post-debate analyses available at this point. However, the debate seems to have been relatively straightforward, with the mainstream media most interested in Stevens' handling of questions about his conviction, which came early on.

Stevens handled them well, hammering the prosecution's frequent legal missteps. In responding to the intraparty calls for him to step down, he bluntly echoed my sentiments: "They are trying to get elected."

Uninteresting debate aside, there's a interesting piece over at Politico about the logistics of the next few weeks. Basically, Alaska's large share of absentee ballots are likely to swing the election weeks after the polls have closed. Some numbers to flesh that out:

Alaska has 490,000 registered voters, and traditional turnout in a presidential year is 60 percent, or about 300,000 total votes. According to Alaska’s director of elections, Gail Fenumiai, there have been 44,000 absentee ballots mailed out for this election.

Fenumiai says the state board of elections won’t begin counting mail-in absentee ballots until the day after the election – and that the process could take 10 to 15 days after that.

First, let me correct a quick factual inaccuracy. Alaskan voter turnout is significantly higher than the 60 percent conventional wisdom number thrown out by the author. Alaska's voter turnout in the last election was over 70 percent, the fifth-highest in the nation. That's in an election cycle that was considerably less politically interesting than the rollicking, multi-race, competitive cycle we've had this year; I wouldn't be surprised if real turnout, which runs a few points higher than reported turnout, hits 80 percent.

In any case, the article's point still stands; it's likely Alaskans be waiting much longer than they're used to on election night.