Congressional diary: Begich declares in Alaska, GOP loses candidates in Arizona

The day's most important congressional news, of course, is the first round of the special election in Mississippi's first district; I will get to that race shortly, when I post my guidelines for what to watch for tonight. Two other important congressional news that are unfolding this week concern recruitment and, as has become typical in this cycle, Democrats have once again been more successful than Republicans.

In Alaska's Senate race, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich announced his candidacy against GOP Senator Ted Stevens. Begich had formed an explanatory committee at the end of February, the first step toward a formal declaration of candidacy, so this week's step is not surprising. But it confirms that Alaska will be the stage for one of the cycle's most disputed Senate races. Stevens is a giant of Alaska politics; first elected in 1970, he has received at least 67% in every one of his re-election races since 1972. He is now considerably weakened by a corruption scandal and an FBI investigation and faces a potentially tricky primary.

Most polls have shown a toss-up, with the latest (from Rasmussen) finding Stevens up 1%. Other polls released earlier in the year found Begich leading. This race is likely to rise in my next Senate rankings -- which should hopefully come out shortly (I know it has been a very long time since I have updated them).

In Arizona, meanwhile, Republicans are playing defense in the first district. Ethically embattled Rep. Renzi retired a few months ago, improving the Republicans' chance of holding the seat. But that still requires finding a strong candidate to run... something the GOP has not been able to do. Their latest efforts focused on convincing Ken Bennett, a former state Senate president who had already declined to run, that he should reconsider. Bennett (re-)announced this week that he would stay out of the race despite this being a "tough decision." This leaves Republicans with Sydney Hay, the president of the Arizona Mining Association. Democrats have the opposite problem -- a competitive primary.

And don't forget that there are still is a possibility Renzi might be forced to resign, potentially creating a special election; given turnout differential between the two parties, those have tended to be favorable to Democrats this year. AZ-01 is rated as lean take-over in my latest House ratings.

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