AUGUST 7, 2008
As Republican candidates run as far as possible this year from President Bush and his disapproval ratings, they'll need to watch out for a second pitfall opening up in the form of recently indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. The six-term senator and his array of legal troubles are already popping up in races far outside Alaska, threatening to further tarnish the GOP brand by reminding voters nationwide of the "culture of corruption" Democrats campaigned against so successfully in 2006.
In Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken, who is running to unseat incumbent Republican Norm Coleman, last week released a radio spot (subscription) tying his opponent to Stevens and questionable corporate donations.
"Coleman took $30,000 in contributions from Senator Stevens," the ad says, "and he's also taken thousands more from the Alaskan oil executives convicted of bribing public officials. And then Coleman refused to return it."
Coleman's campaign eventually announced it was donating all of the $20,000 it received from Stevens' Northern Lights PAC during this cycle to cancer research.
Stevens drew a more veiled reference in the Kentucky Senate race, popping up in Democrat Bruce Lunsford's latest release. In "How It Works" (subscription), Lunsford charges Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with being a "the master of this system" that benefits politicians at the expense of ordinary people. "It's how Wall Street gets bailed out and people lose their homes. It's how senators get indicted and Mitch McConnell says nothing." (Like Coleman, McConnell donated $10,000 dollars he received from Stevens' PAC.)
Back home in Alaska, the message was even blunter. "I'm Vic Vickers, and I'm running against Ted Stevens to stop corruption," begins a recent TV ad (subscription) from one of Stevens' GOP primary opponents, who has said he will spend up to $750,000 of his own money to take on the incumbent. Standing in front of Stevens' Girdwood, Alaska, home -- the one FBI agents raided last year in their investigation of the senator's financial dealings -- Vickers hammers on the theme of corruption in the ad, pledging to clean up Alaska politics and refuse donations from oil companies and special interests.
Whether or not Stevens is taken down in the Aug. 26 primary (most observers consider it unlikely), polling conducted after the indictment showed him losing ground against his presumptive general election opponent. If recent ads are any indication, Democrats hope Stevens' legal problems could plague more than just him this election cycle.