MyDD Interview with Mark Begich

At the Netroots Nation conference last week down in Austin, I had the chance to catch up with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democratic Senate candidate in the state of Alaska and a key member of the MyDD Road to 60 Act Blue page.

You should be able to listen to the audio of the interview below in the not too distant future (apparently it's still formatting), but for now please do read the rush transcript of the interview in which Begich lays out a number of the themes of his campaign and presents a strong case as to why members of the MyDD community, and the netroots more broadly, should be supporting his campaign.


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Jonathan Singer: In 2004 Tony Knowles was able to get 45, 46 percent of the vote. You're consistently polling ahead, but kind of in the mid- to high-40s. How do you get from the mid- to high-40s to the plurality that takes home the day?

Mark Begich: I think that there's a couple things. First, the dynamics between '04 and now are way different in Alaska, and there's a couple elements, first the campaign dynamics and then as means of candidates there's a different dynamic.

First, the campaign dynamics. In '04 our delegation was in the majority. Senator Stevens was the Appropriations chair. Lisa Murkowski had two years already there. She was a woman candidate, which cut right into Tony's base. The other piece was the in the last two weeks Ted Stevens came out with an ad for Lisa Murkowski and said, "If you abandon us, Alaska will lose out. You can't break the team up. We're there, we're bringing back the bacon." Those were the days when people loved bacon and they also had no problems with the delegation in the sense of some of the issues they're dealing with today.

The other thing is Bush was still popular back then, not like he is today, so it was a very red state. And the other piece was there was a third candidate, independent candidate, that kind of appeared out of nowhere. Actually dressed very similar to Tony Knowles, talked like Tony Knowles. Showed up, spent about $175,000, $200,000 towards the end of the campaign. When the campaign was over he vanished. And he picked up 3 ½, 4 percent of the vote, built it right out of the back, I believe, of Tony Knowles.

This cycle it's different - the campaign, all it's dynamics. The delegation is no longer in the majority on either side. Stevens has lost his powerful position. Earmarks are in trouble all across this country. His ability to bring back stuff is harder. It's four years later. The President is at the lowest ratings ever. The dynamics of the country have switched, too, and Alaska has switched.

And the independent candidate who's in this time is a right to lifer, Buchanan delegate, and loves to brag about it. We always put our thumb up and say, "keep going." So it's a different dynamic than what played last time.

Singer: And in the view of some on the right, Stevens is conservative on life but not 10,000 percent conservative?

Begich: Right, right. And this guy can peel right off his back. And because he comes from an area called Nakiski, which is a very conservative area which Republicans treat as a guarantee - here's you're delivery of the votes, not a lot, but it's a delivery - this guy is from there and he is a proud hard right to right. So he will not take one vote from me where Tony had that problem with that other candidate.

The other thing that's different, Stevens and Don Young are both under a cloud of investigation and other activities. That's all swirling around. Stevens popularity back then was 70 percent positive, 12 percent negative, so he was very popular. Today, I don't know what the latest...

Matt Browner-Hamlin (staffer): His negatives were in the 60s. That's the furthest we've seen it.

Begich: Yeah, they were deep. His reelect number when we did a poll three months ago was 31 percent. He's never been in that position.

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Democratic Cong. Campaign C'tees Hit $100 Mil. On-Hand

With the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee now fully part of the two parties' presumptive nominees' campaign efforts and likely to spend the great bulk of their cash on the race for the White House, I'm splitting off the two national committees from my monthly tally of the finance filings of the parties' congressional committees to write about them instead in tandem with posts on the fundraising of John McCain and Barack Obama. So on their own, here are the latest numbers on the parties' congressional campaign committees:

CommitteeJune ReceiptsJune DisbursementsJune Cash-on-HandJune Debts & Obligations
DSCC (est.) $10,800,000.00$3,000,000.00$46,300,000.00$0
NRSC (est.)$6,000,000.00$3,000,000.00$24,600,000.00$0
DCCC$10,059,418.49$2,587,067.66$54,652,584.48$0
NRCC$6,083,456.25$4,273,426.10$8,464,831.65$0
Total
Democrats
$20,859,418.49$5,587,067.66$100,952,584.48$0
Total
Republicans
$12,083,456.25$7,273,426.1$33,064,831.65$0

Right now the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has close to a 2-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over the National Republican Senatorial Committee, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's edge over the National Republican Congressional Committee on the House side is roughly 6.5-to-1. Overall, the two Democratic committees have a 3-to-1 lead in cash in the bank, as well as an astonishing $100 million available.

These numbers again underscore the fact that although the punditry can try to make it seem that the race for control of Congress, or even Democratic efforts to significantly increase their majorities in both Houses, are closer than they actually are, the money race makes it exceedingly difficult for the Republicans to do much to defend themselves this year. Coupled with the generic congressional ballot polling showing the Democrats maintaining a wide advantage within the electorate, these fundraising numbers show again that the Democrats maintain a real opportunity to bring sweeping change this fall -- a situation that can only occur, however, if the party remains diligent and energized through election day.

MS-Sen: Musgrove Matches Wicker's Fundraising

We may have played a small part in helping Ronnie Musgrove's fundraising efforts this quarter, but we no doubt played a part. And with the filings now in, it looks like Musgrove was able to match the fundraising effort of appointed Republican Senator Roger Wicker down in Mississippi.

Interim Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Tupelo has amassed a campaign war chest of nearly $3 million as he seeks to keep the seat he was appointed to in late 2007.

His Democratic opponent, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, whose fundraising lagged earlier this year, came close to matching Wicker's quarterly total - Musgrove raised $813,708 compared to Wicker's $822,476.

Musgrove actually outraised Wicker with $607,803 from individuals compared with $475,444.88 for his opponent.

That brings Musgrove's total contributions to $1.26 million, with $716,180 on hand, but it's still less than a quarter of what Wicker has banked.

These numbers come a day after reports from Roll Call (subscription required) that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is going up on the air on Musgrove's behalf.

As Sen. Roger Wicker (R) continues to air a series of campaign ads in central and Gulf Coast Mississippi this month, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is going up on television in the Magnolia state beginning today.

The DSCC television purchases in Mississippi means the party will be on the air in the Magnolia State ahead of the Democratic Senate nominee, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who has yet to buy television ads in the special Senate election.

This news gives me an opportunity to highlight something I omitted in my post announcing Musgrove's slot in the MyDD Road to 60 Act Blue page: Musgrove's strong economic populism. While there are certainly areas upon which Musgrove will not be the most progressive Senator -- in fact, he might end up being one of the most conservative Democrats in the caucus (though still a better and significantly more reliable vote than Wicker) -- there are other areas where he is decidedly populist and even progressive.

Take workers' rights, for instance. On the important issue of the Employee Free Choice Act, which enables workers to bypass some of the decidedly anti-union tactics used by some employers, Wicker has been a reliable vote against hard working Americans. Musgrove, however, is a strong supporter of workers' rights, proudly supporting the Employee Free Choice Act.

This, of course, is not the only difference between Wicker and Musgrove, but it is an illustrative one. When it comes to standing with working Americans, Musgrove and the Democrats think it's important to support workers while Wicker and the Republicans think it's more important to kowtow to corporate special interests and side against workers. It is because of this, as well as a host of other reasons, that Musgrove is a member of the Road to 60 page and deserving of our support.

There's more...

KS-Sen: Roberts Gets Worried

There are those who might argue that former Democratic Congressman Jim Slattery has no shot of taking down incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts out in Kansas, a state that hasn't sent a Democrat to the United States Senate in more than 70 years. But among those in the group who think that this race already has the real potential to be competitive is an interesting name: Pat Roberts. Here's Roberts' latest ad:

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts is airing the first negative television ad in his re-election campaign against Democratic opponent Jim Slattery.

The 30-second spot began running today in the Wichita and Topeka markets. It criticizes Slattery for earning millions working as a Washington lobbyist.

[...]

Slattery spokeswoman Abbie Hodgson says Roberts must be worried if he is starting negative attacks even before the Aug. 5 primary.

Hodgson is entirely correct: Incumbent Senators don't go negative unless they think they need to, and they certainly don't go negative this early unless they are genuinely concerned about their reelection hopes. These actions significantly undercut the internal polling released by the Roberts campaign showing their candidate up 20 points and instead suggest that Rasmussen polling showing Roberts' lead to be in the single digits may not be so far off.

If you want to help get Slattery's back, though, head over to the MyDD Road to 60 Act Blue page, of which he is a beneficiary, and show your support for his campaign today.

Update [2008-7-14 13:27:8 by Jonathan Singer]: Via release, the Kansas Democratic Party today released an FEC complaint against the Roberts campaign:

Today, the Kansas Democratic Party filed an official complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Roberts for U.S. Senate. Roberts' latest negative ad does not meet the "Stand By Your Ad" requirements set by the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

"It appears as if Pat Roberts was attempting to dodge responsibility for making personal attacks against his opponent, something he pledged he would not do," said Kansas Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Gaughan.

"Sen. Roberts is trying to have it both ways, but his attempt at pulling the wool over the eyes of Kansas voters puts him in direct violation of the very campaign laws designed to protect us from these deceptive political attacks."

There's more...

Why 60 Votes Matters: A Case Study on Today's Medicare Vote

We have had an ongoing debate on the virtue of pursuing 60 seats in the United States Senate, whether that number really matters or if it is just an excuse for not getting things done. This afternoon, just within the past few minutes, we have seen a clear reason why 60 votes matters.

A couple weeks ago, the Senate voted on legislation that would stave off greater than a 10 percent cut to doctors providing service to Medicare patients, as well as certain veterans. Although the measure passed overwhelmingly in the House -- to the tune of 355 to 59, with most Republicans voting in favor of the measure -- Republicans in the Senate decided to filibuster the bill leaving it a single vote short of attaining cloture.

Harry Reid subsequently switched his "yes" vote to a "no" in order to preserve the option of bringing the bill back to the floor for another vote -- a prerogative he made use of this afternoon. And just a few minutes ago, Senator Ted Kennedy, who has not been back to the Senate since he underwent brain surgery, made his triumphant return to the chamber to provide the Medicare bill its 60th supporter in the House.

Immediately thereafter, nine GOP Senators, all of whom had been to that point steadfastly in opposition to the bill -- even in the face of a strong push from the Democrats and a super strong push from the AMA, which has been an overwhelming supporter of the GOP in years past -- switched their position on the legislation. All of the sudden, as a result of getting a 60th vote, the bill went from having 59 to 39 support in the Senate to having 69 to 30 support -- more than enough to override a threatened veto from President Bush (assuming those Senators vote the same on an override vote as they did on the cloture vote). Not even a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney to lobby Senate Republicans could stem this movement.

This is exactly what the power of 60 is and why it is so important to strive for 60 Democratic Senators in the 111th Congress. It is why we at MyDD have set up our Road to 60 Act Blue page raising money for the candidates who will help tear down John Ensign's 41-seat firewall. When a bill or an amendment has enough support to sustain a filibuster, it is much easier for the minority party to keep in line. But once the majority can get to 60 votes -- a task made all the much more easy if the party has 60 seats, or close to it (even if not all of the members vote together on a particular issue) -- Senators in the minority are much more free to vote their conscience (or at least as the political winds are blowing) with the majority.

This is not always the case, and it will not always be the case. Having 60 Democratic Senators come January would not necessarily mean that the war would end immediately, or that universal healthcare would be easily achieved. But as you can see with today's vote on Medicare payments to doctors, 60 votes matters -- and even getting one more voice on the path to that goal can make all the difference in the world.

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