Today's indictment of Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens on seven felony counts of concealing gifts from lobbyists makes one of the Democratic Party's prime U.S. Senate targets that much closer to a pick-up in November.
Stevens surprised many by announcing he would run for a 7th term, despite an ongoing Federal probe and rumors of a possible indictment for more than a year. The indictment makes his likely Democratic opponent, Mark Begich, a rare statewide favorite to win a Federal election in the state.
Democrats have only won 1 of the last 13 U.S. Senate races, dating back to 1970. The average Republican margin of victory has been 34 points during that span. In fact, in Stevens' last two victories, in 1996 and 2002, Democrats failed to win 11 percent of the vote - receiving less than the combined total of third party candidates in both years (and losing outright to the Green Party in 1996).
However, Democrats came very close to winning Alaska's last Senate race - in 2004 - when former Governor Tony Knowles lost by just 3 points (Republicans were plagued in that race as well, but only by charges of nepotism: Governor Frank Murkowski had appointed his daughter, Lisa, to his own unexpired U.S. Senate seat in 2002, which he vacated to become Governor).
Stevens won his first full term in a special election in 1970, and has not won less than 66 percent of the vote in his six re-election bids since. Begich led Stevens in the most recent public opinion poll - 50 to 41 percent (Rasmussen, July 17th, 500 likely voters).