MCCAINISTAN, PT 2… But guess who’s doing pretty well in Alaska right now? McCain’s old nemesis, Ted Stevens! You may recall that Uncle Ted, who is defending the Senate seat he has held since the Johnson Administration, got into some legal trouble over unreported gifts from Veco Corp, the political wrecking ball that has wiped out a large swath of Alaska’s Republican establishment over the past two years. Stevens’s trial began this week in Washington–the U.S. District Court bumped a civil suit alleging mistreatment of elephants by the Ringling Bros. Circus in order to get to Stevens before the election–but a funny thing is happening to his campaign back in Alaska: In the two months since Stevens’s indictment, his poll numbers have actually improved.

As of earlier this week, he had gained back most of the 17 points he lost to Democratic challenger Mark Begich since his indictment. “Stevens has closed the race since he got indicted,” Ivan Moore, the Anchorage pollster, told me yesterday. “How does that happen? Only in Alaska, I guess–I’m tempted to believe that even if he gets convicted, he’ll get 45 percent.”

Moore argues that the initial shock of the indictment produced a convention-style bounce for Begich, but has since worn off. My totally unscientific, purely speculative explanation for this as a two-year (now ex-)resident of Stevens’s home state is that (a) as more details have come out about the actually relatively low-stakes corruption Stevens is accused of, Alaskans have decided it’s not a big deal; (b) there is so much residual good will towards Stevens in Alaska that he regains popularity pretty easily; and (c) Alaskans so dislike the federal government that seeing Stevens in front of a judge in Washington is enough to rouse a kind of rebel sympathy for him. This passage from Philip Gourevitch’s recent New Yorker piece about Stevens and Palin rings true:

If Stevens loses, it will be as an Alaska patriot to the end, whereas if Sarah Palin finds herself on the winning ticket it will require her to have shifted her loyalty away from Alaska first.

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