Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mark Begich Wins!

After waiting more than two weeks for the early votes to be properly counted (and entirely by the way, can we just pause to savor the irony in that little sentence-fragment?), Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has been declared the winner of the United States Senate seat currently occupied by convicted felon Ted Stevens. Mr. Begich becomes the fifty-eighth member of the Democratic caucus in the Senate (now that we can all go back to thinking about everything else besides the fate of Joe Lieberman) and the only Senator who does not possess a college degree. One other interesting tidbit: Alaska's house race was also just conceded within the past day or so, securing a nineteenth term for Republican Don Young--whose first victory in 1972 was won when the airplane in which the Democratic incumbent was traveling, disappeared. The Democrat in that race? It was Mark Begich's father, Nick.

Many major news outlets have not yet called the race, despite the fact that the number of remaining uncounted absentee ballots is smaller than Begich's current margin. There's actually a pretty good (if somewhat tortuous) explanation for the media reticence, if only in this case: Should the absentee ballots close Begich's margin to within 0.5%, the state must automatically hold a recount. Trouble is, recounts always favor democrats, and with so few ballots actually cast the likelihood of making up a 0.5% margin is considerably smaller than it would be if Stevens could hang his hat on the prospect of 50,000 presumably staunch supporters showing up as undervotes in suburban Minneapolis. Stevens can also pay for a recount out of his own pocket if the margin is larger than 0.5%, but with senior members of his own party calling for his expulsion from their caucus, it seems more likely that Mr. Stevens will take a page from the George Allen playbook, letting the sting of defeat die down a little before quietly conceding.

As the Alsaka race fades from prominence, along comes the beginning of the much-anticipated Minnesota recount, to captivate our attentions for the next few news cycles. As your intrepid columnist has stated with rather foolish confidence on several occasions before, the fact that Mr. Coleman is presently ahead by about 200 votes is utterly irrelevant to the relative prospects of victory for each of the two candidates in that race: Recounts always favor Democrats, and with this many undervotes in profoundly pro-Democratic areas of the state, I should think it a stunning upset if Mr. Franken does not prevail. (At all events, he's in Washington attending freshman orientation, presumably under the same set of assumptions.)

Which leaves only Georgia--where early voting is already underway in the runoff between Republican incumbent Saxbe Chambliss and his Democratic challenger, Jim Martin. Martin's runoff strategy has been considerably more aggressive at highlighting Mr. Chambliss' shortcomings on domestic policy (which are manifold), and with some big Democratic guns fanning the Atlanta base, anything is possible. The Key Grip remains, however, less than persuaded by the media's portrayal of an ultimate, Alamo-style showdown for the life and death of the Republican party.

As the friend of a man who owns vacation property in North Carolina, I've criss-crossed the State of Adventure more often in the past two years than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton combined, and I can tell you that outside of a handful of royal-blue enclaves scattered around the state, Georgia is exactly the sort of place that Ricahrd Pryor had in mind when he said, of the south, "They've got white folks down there that scare white folks." Surely if the polarizing and suddenly dated-seeming Atwater playbook is going to work anywhere, it's in Georgia. Besides, the Georgia Republican base won't mind the extra attention as the bearers of such grim responsibility, and will happily turn out in massive numbers to stop those icky Democrats from making their decidedly un-magic "magic number" of 60 Senate seats. For all of these reasons, smart money is still on Chambliss.

With the election and its associated after-dramas winding down, your columnist lightly turns his attentions to thoughts of travel, and of movies--a promise he's made more than once before, if you're keeping score at home, and hasn't yet quite managed the courage to try out on an audience of five hard-boiled political junkies. Will Cinema Democratica survive its transition to a three-topic column? Will the comment field be peppered with angry feedback from jilted news hounds? Will the vote to chew up bandwidth with non-political posts come down to a razor-thin margin and, most importantly, who will pay for the manual recount, and who gets the money when they do?

Hey, we've gotta have some drama in our lives, now, don't we.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida