Congressional diary: Will Alaska and Mississippi rise to the top tier of Senate races?

I usually try to cover congressional races every day, but the latest time I wrote a post on Senate or House contests was on December 19th. Clearly, the end of the year is making congressional elections quiet, and the only reason we have this much to cover right now is that Iowa is voting on January 3rd. But there definitely are a few newsworthy item down-the-ballot.

MS-Sen: Trent Lott officially resigned on the 18th, and Governor Barbour by law has 11 days to appoint a replacement, so we should know today or tomorrow who the new Senator from Mississippi is. Things should go pretty quickly after that: If Democrats want to drag Barbour to court (as they clearly are planning to do they will have to do so fast.

And here is some hope for Democrats in this race: An internal poll conducted by the Musgrove campaign (by the Democratic-leaning Greenberg group) and obtained by the Daily Journal has Musgrove leading one of the two likely GOP nominees, Rep. Wicker, 48% to 34%. A Research 2000 poll conducted last week had Wicker up by single-digits on Musgove, but it looks like the Research 2000 poll significantly under-polled African-Americans. This internal poll is reportedly much closer to the actual proportion of black voters: 33% (34% of the electorate in the last statewide election was African-American).

Another reason to give credence to this poll more than to the typical internal poll: Surveys taken when a candidate is still looking to jump in the race are often conducted to measure whether the race could be competitive and whether it is worth it for the candidate to jump in, so it seems unlikely they would want to make it too bias for their candidate since that would defeat the point. So does this mean that (1) Musgrove will jump in the race after seeing such numbers, and that (2) we have a real race in our hands?

AK-Sen: Two news items in the Alaska Senate race. One, Senator Ted Stevens has drawn a primary challenger, very wealthy developer David Cuddy who already challenged Stevens in 1996 -- only drawing 27%. Times are different today and all GOP incumbents are ultra-tarnished by corruption scandals. The incumbent govenor came in third in a primary just last year. Stevens is one of the most entrenched incumbents in the country, and he is obvioulsy favored to win the nomination again; but he will have to fight for it... and could this push him to renounce to running for re-election if he does not want to spend the whole year campaigning? That would actually be a benediction for Republicans, as a fresh untarnished face could have an easier time holding the seat.

And the second item is about Mark Begich, the Anchorage Mayor who Democrats want to see jump in the race against Stevens. The news last month was that Begich would not announce a run before the spring (March or April) but that he would let people know by the end of 2007 if he was not running to let other people have a change to go for it. In other words, if we did not hear anything by the end of the year, we should assume that Begich is running. Going on that, it now is looking increasingly likely that we will see a real contest in Alaska, since Begich has the ability to make this a top-tier race (a recent poll had him leading Stevens).

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