ANCHORAGE - Ted Stevens has been an Alaska senator for 34 years. He isn't tired of the job yet.
The 78-year-old senator, wearing a dark blue tie emblazoned with miniature American flags, formally launched his 2002 re-election campaign Friday before a roomful of about 75 supporters gathered at a downtown Anchorage hotel.
"I think I have the best job in the world," Stevens told his supporters as they ate lunch at the Hilton Hotel.
Stevens, an Alaska Republican, said he expects to spend $1.5 million on the 2002 campaign. He's received contributions from about 3,000 donors, resulting in $1.5 million from individuals and $1 million from political action committees. He has $1.4 million on hand.
The senator said he spent $38,000 on his first campaign.
Stevens, who won six years ago with 76.7 percent of the vote, said he probably will win again, but he's going to run like he's facing a serious challenge.
"I'm going to run like there is someone there," he said.
Fellow Republican Mike Aubrey has filed to run, as well as Democrats Frank J. Vondersaar and Theresa Obermeyer. Green Party candidates Thomas Higgins and Jim Sykes also are running. Jim Dore is an Alaskan Independence candidate and Leonard Karpinski is a Libertarian Party candidate.
Sykes, who helped found the Green Party of Alaska in 1990, said Stevens is vulnerable because he's become a tool for large corporate interests, particularly oil, transportation and defense.
"He really deserves to be challenged," Sykes said. "Lately, he stood up in front of the Senate and the entire nation and called people liars if they thought the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was wilderness. ... It hurt his credibility and our state's credibility."
Stevens said if re-elected he would make building a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope his No. 1 priority. Second on his list will be prioritizing the infrastructure needs of Alaska.
Like nowhere else in the country, Alaska provides opportunities to try to find solutions to problems, Stevens said. He pointed to what happened in King Cove when residents there tried to put in a road so they could more easily deal with medical emergencies.
The senator said "extreme people" determined the area in question was wilderness. The issue was settled by building an airport and small clinic to get emergency cases out of the small Alaska Peninsula fishing community.
Stevens said an unscientific theory that overfishing for pollock was the cause of dramatic declines in the Steller sea lion population nearly scuttled a large piece of Alaska's fishing industry.
The senator last year helped obtain more than $80 million for sea lion research to find out why Steller sea lion populations have plunged more than 80 percent in Western Alaska.
"The availability of pollock has nothing to do with the declines of sea lions," Stevens said.
With so much still to do, Stevens said it was too early to talk about retirement. Stevens was appointed to the Senate in 1968 by Gov. Walter Hickel. In 1970, he won an election to finish the term and has won every six years since.
"I look forward to this campaign this fall," Stevens said. "It is a great privilege to have the job."
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