Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Begich drew the rural vote in Alaska

Well, the Democrats have won another seat in the U.S. Senate following the near completion of the Alaska vote count, which gave the victory to Mark Begich, mayor of Anchorage. (Begich, incidentally, was defeated by Sarah Palin in the governor's race a few years ago). Begich defeated Ted Stevens who had served in the Senate for 40 years. About a week before the election, a federal jury convicted Stevens of several counts of failing to report gifts. Read the story here. Nevertheless, as of election night, Stevens led in the race against Begich. Only in these past two weeks, as outstanding and absentee votes have been counted, has Begich pulled ahead and finally been declared the winner. Read the NYT coverage here.

Stevens was known for bringing home the pork to Alaska, which to me suggests funding for projects aimed at rural places. Of course, Alaska is a very rural state by some measures, with a state-wide population density of just 1 person per three square miles. Yet only 26% of the population is rural by U.S. Census Bureau standards, and just 38% is nonmetropolitan by the Office of Management and Budget definition. (See the full USDA ERS report here). That means that most of Alaska's population is in cities. Juneau, the capital, has a population of 30,711, and Fairbanks has 30,224 residents, making both micropolitan. Anchorage, however, is urban, with 260,283 residents. In a state with a population of only 626,932, this means that 41% are living in a single city, which doesn't even take into account surrounding suburbs such as Wasilla, population 5,469, Palmer, population 4,533, and other small cities on the Kenai Penninsula.

All of this helps explain why this map looks so blue. The map shows in blue the state legislative districts Begich won, while those Stevens won are shown in red. Anchorage and environs appear equally split between the candidates (the Anchorage Daily News reports Begich with 49.3% of the city, Stevens with 46.5%) , while the rest of the state went blue. Maybe those in more rural parts of Alaska have a lower tolerance for crooks? Or maybe they didn't get as much benefit from Stevens over the years as his repuation for pork suggests. The Anchorage Daily News indicates that Stevens has historically had great support in rural Alaska, so for whatever reasons, the tide turned there. Interestingly, Ketchikan, home of what would have been the now infamous "bridge to nowhere," did support Stevens.

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