The Alaska Democrat whose claim that he was “a thorn” in Pres. Obama’s side turned him into an overnight laughingstock among the political crowd is in trouble again.
It’s been a zig-zag campaign for Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska). Some may say the first-term incumbent Democrat is doing his best to lose the election that should be his. The most recent mistake was running a TV-Web ad that accused his Republican opponent, Dan Sullivan, of granting early release to a sex offender, who then assaulted a 2-year-old girl and killed her grandparents.
Fact checking by the website politifact.com found that Sullivan was not personally responsible for the decision to release the sex offender turned double murderer. That, combined with the outcry from the victims’ family, prompted Begich to pull the ad off TV, even though the Associated Press reported he didn’t want to scrap the 30-second message and his campaign staff had to argue mightily to get it off the air.
So Begich needs to rebound again. This time the potheads, independents, and perhaps even the Libertarians of Alaska could be his saving grace.
Along with the Senate election, Alaskans will also decide the fate of a proposal to legalize marijuana in their state. This could be just what the Begich campaign needs.
The Brookings Institution points out that Begich faces significant challenges that are not of his own making. He’s a Democrat in a Red State weighed down by a very unpopular president. But marijuana and the passion it lights up in its users could mean the difference between six more years for Begich and a first term for Sullivan.
Midterm elections do not generate a lot of enthusiasm from voters and they provoke even less fire in the bellies of Democrats than Republicans. However, a ballot proposal that is exciting and packed with emotion, like the idea of legalizing marijuana, can really attract voters.
It isn’t just pot that can make a difference. Some political observers believe same-sex marriage initiatives on 2004 ballots helped increase the turnout of voters who tend to be more conservative.
However, marijuana could help Begich roll up this election, seeds, stems and all.
The Brookings Institution points out that marijuana legalization changed the makeup of the electorate in Washington and Colorado in 2012. People who smoke pot and carry enough about it to vote on legalization tend to be younger, more liberal and more libertarian.
Exit polling data show the 18- to 29-year-old demographic accounted for only 10 percent of the electorate in Washington in 2008. But four years later, when marijuana legalization was on the ballot, the percentage increased to 21 percent. On top of that, whereas 27 percent of all voters in Washington described themselves as being “liberal” in 2008, that number jumped to 31 percent in 2012.
The Brookings Institution study also found a jump in the number of young voters in Colorado and an increase of voters who described themselves as “liberal” in 2012 when pot was on the ballot.
Barack Obama was helped by marijuana in Colorado and Washington. There is no reason to think that Begich can’t ride the coattails of cannabis to another six-year term.
The Brookings Institution report points to exit polling data that show 68 percent of those who voted for the legalization of marijuana in 2012 voted for President Obama. That beats his 51 percent level of support among all Colorado voters.
The exiting polling data difference was even more pronounced in the state of Washington. Seventy-two percent of those who voted to support legal pot also voted for Obama, while he picked up only 56 percent of the vote statewide.
Those people showed up at the polls in Washington and Colorado two years ago, and that kind of voter might make the difference for Begich in November.
The Begich campaign is staying away from the marijuana debate and has not commented on the idea that pot smokers could pull the Democrat one toke over the line into the Senate.
The Brookings study shows there is a difference between the organizations pushing for the legalization of marijuana and those that pushed to stop same-sex marriages in 2004.
It was the Republican Party that got behind the idea of being against same-sex marriage. GOP leaders in the White House, Congress and state legislatures were behind an organized effort to support those initiatives.
However, the only people who are backing marijuana legalization are the people who smoke pot as early and often as possible. Democratic Party bosses are staying away from the issue for the most part.
There are number crunchers who disagree with the Brookings report, though, because it is based on exit polling.
FiveThirtyEight cited the federal government’s Current Population Survey to dispute the idea that marijuana legalization ballot propositions attracted younger, more liberal and even more libertarian voters to the polls.
But what if Brookings is right and FiveThirtyEight is wrong?
Because the Alaska Senate seat occupied by Begich is one of those that the GOP sees as attainable, Harry Reid might have pot to thank if he remains Senate majority leader.