JUNEAU — Five Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination for U.S. House — and the chance to be the first Democrat representing Alaska in that chamber since 1973.
For nearly 40 years, that seat has been held by Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young, who is expected to easily win his primary Tuesday over little-known candidates John R. Cox and Terre Gales.
Young remains a formidable force, with instant name recognition and a huge campaign treasury. He said he knows the state “better than anyone else,” and wants to stay in Congress “as long as I’ve got the inspiration and the fire to do this job.”
But the Democrats, who generally got into the race out of frustration with their representation in Washington, aren’t flinching.
The fact that Young, despite his years in Washington, chairs just one subcommittee “tells me the zenith of his career, that’s in his rearview mirror,” said Matt Moore, who, like other candidates in the race, has struggled to raise money and estimates he’s been putting in 19- to 20-hour days trying to get his message out to voters.
Joining Moore in the Democratic primary are state Rep. Sharon Cissna, who garnered national attention last year for refusing an airport pat-down; Debra Chesnut; Doug Urquidi and Frank Vondersaar.
Moore and Chesnut have raised the most, according to campaign finance reports, about $37,600 and $15,700, respectively, with both either loaning or giving money to their own campaigns. Cissna is the only Democrat who hasn’t filed any reports, though she said she and her husband have been loaning money to her campaign.
The issues on voters’ minds are jobs, the economy, energy and health care. Moore, who has medical consulting business in Anchorage, describes himself as pro-development and says he would work to open a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling. Chesnut, who runs her husband’s dental practice and has a coffee hut in Fairbanks, doesn’t support drilling in the refuge, saying oil and gas can be extracted just fine from areas already set aside for that purpose. Chesnut says her work as a nurse in rural Alaska for years gave her a good understanding of the different people and needs in the state.
Transportation has become a centerpiece issue for Cissna, a breast cancer survivor who tries to avoid airports where she must undergo Transportation Security Administration screenings. Cissna considers pat-downs an assault, and has railed against the agency since her experience more than a year ago. But she says there’s more to her than that one issue, noting her experience working on health and education issues in the state Legislature.
Urquidi, an electrician from Eagle River, believes public works projects, like new road construction, would create many new jobs in the state. Vondersaar, of Homer, considers himself a “political prisoner” of the United States, and in his election pamphlet statement calls himself “pro-jobs, pro-choice and anti-fascist.”