On Monday, I released a state that a future presidential contender has been working his way through - the state I'm dropping today was once home to the most infamous vice presidential candidate in US history - Sarah Palin. It should come as no surprise that the state with the smallest legislature in the country - 40 house members, 20 senators - produces some of the most interesting outcomes, including the only chamber governed by a bi-partisan coalition.
One of the things that catches my eyes immediately with Alaska is the relative success of Democrats given the the territory. Despite only nine seats having positive 50/50 numbers for Democrats, they hold sixteen seats. Those sixteen are not spread out everywhere either - they are anchored in the seats they need to win in order to take the chamber.
The Senate side is where things get real interesting. Back in 2006, Democrats and a select few Republicans chose together into what they call the Alaska Senate Majority Bipartisan Working Group. The arrangement splits leadership positions between members of both parties that are part of the group, leaving a small Republican minority that has been aligned with recent governors.
Some parts of the coalition make easy sense - who would control the chamber was highly contested, and so it likely made sense for Republicans in more liberal districts to join forces and end the confusion. But that solution offer no explanation as to why the Senators representing the two most Republican districts - places where a 74 - 26 victory is to be expected - would also jump ship. The source of the division appears to instead result from the serious personal differences that permeate Alaskan Republican politics - the kind of divisions that allowed Sarah Palin to primary an incumbent governor, and find Republicans in her state complaining about her once she was elevated to the national stage.
Alaskan Democrats deserve attention - this isn't fertile ground, yet they hold an effective majority in one chamber, and are barely in the minority in the other. While it would be interesting to hear what they believe they've done well to get them to this point, I think the greatest success the party has had is a strategy that seeks to exploit every Republican misstep. As Sen. Ted Stevens slid deeper and deeper into scandal mode, they had a strong Democrat in Mark Begich waiting in the wings, who has quietly amassed a strong voting record despite his conservative constituency. While Scott McAdams came up shy, they were right in the thick of the campaign once Joe Miller one the primary, and had Sen. Lisa Murkowski not won the anti-Miller vote, I'd be willing to bet that we would have another Democrat in the Senate. If Democrats can continue to hold their own in the legislature, they'll always have the candidates that can pop up the next time Alaska Republicans name someone who is halfway from crazy.
While we are on the topic of crazy, it should be noted that Sarah Palin's election as governor doesn't get nearly as much attention as it should have during the campaign. While everyone bags on Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty's highly unimpressive election margins, at least he can point to Democrats generic average in the state. Sarah only picked up 48% of the vote, edging her opponent by 7 points, in a state where a Republican should be expected to double that. Anyone who had looked at her election for more than a second would know that her charisma had done nothing to win over independents - it exclusively excited conservatives. While conservatives might not have been in love with John McCain, the notion that they were not going to vote for him against the man they depicted as the anti-Christ was absolutely ludicrous - they forfeited electability for a candidate who could not fulfill the office's one real constitutional duty - ability to assume the presidency.
Politics is not as simple as winners and losers - plenty of successful politicians lose races at some point in their career, but their upward trajectory is clear. Obama or Clinton losing their campaigns for the House weren't daggers because they seemed capable of even greater things. That is the real failure of this current Republican field, and its leader, Mitt Romney. Romney has won a single campaign in his life, it was close, and he knew he didn't have a shot at re-election. He's not the kind of candidate whose lost on the way up - he's been running for significant office since 1994. Santorum has the same mark of a loser, as does Gingrich. The one person in the campaign who really has an ascendent political history is Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann - someone who has never lost a campaign, taken on incumbents, and been faced with heavily funded challengers. I think this accounts for her ability to stand behind everything she says, no matter how wrong it is. Politicians like Bachmann never have to second guess themselves, where as an old hand like Romney is constantly thinking of all the ways he has been burned in the past, and adjusting his statements and positions to get himself out of trouble. Her strength may not be a recipe for success at the national level, but in Republican primaries? It is as good as they get.