Most state races now contested

16 challenge governor; 10 face off against U.S. Rep. Young

Posted: Friday, June 02, 2006

The deadline has come and gone for candidates who plan to run for public office this year, and while the field is crowded in some areas, it's sparse in others.

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Sixteen candidates are challenging Gov. Frank Murkowski, 10 will face U.S. Rep. Don Young, and 11 more have signed up to run for lieutenant governor.

Still, 11 incumbents ended up unopposed in local House and Senate races.

Candidates had until Thursday evening to file with the state Division of Elections, whose staff worked well past closing time to process the paperwork that came flooding in on the last day.

Every incumbent, except for Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, and Sen. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, is either running for re-election or seeking higher office, including two house members vying for the seat that Senate President Ben Stevens says he's not ready to give up.

Several statewide offices and legislative seats look to be very competitive this year.

Republicans hold the governor's office and majorities in the House and the Senate. But with the number of challengers this year, one or both chambers could see a power shift.

That would seem less likely in the House, where Republicans hold a 26-14 majority. The Senate Republicans' majority is slimmer at 12-8.

Stevens, who had said he would not decide whether he would run again until after the regular legislative session, filed for re-election on Friday. He will face a challenge from Reps. Norm Rokeberg and Leslie McGuire of Anchorage.

Whoever wins the Republican primary in that race will face Democrat Ray Utter.

Every incumbent state senator, except for Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, has challengers for their seats. The race for Sen. Guess' seat was crowded with two Republican and one Democratic contender.

Guess, who recently had a baby, will not seek re-election.

In the House, three-quarters of incumbents face challengers.

Besides Weyhrauch, Democratic Reps. Ethan Berkowitz and Eric Croft of Anchorage will not run to keep their seats.

Both are running for statewide office - Croft for governor and Berkowitz for lieutenant governor.

The most competitive is Berkowitz's seat, which drew four Democrats and two Republicans.

Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, and Rep. Carl Moses, D-Unalaska, also face a heavy field of contenders. Both have five challengers, two of whom they will face in the August primary.

Pollster Marc Hellenthal said the numbers of candidates running in this election don't surprise him, especially when it comes to the governor's race. He said Murkowski's low approval ratings that have dogged him through most of his term create "virtually an open seat," making it attractive to many candidates.

But the same rationale shouldn't hold for most of the other incumbents, he said. They should expect to make a strong showing this year thanks to healthy oil prices feeding a revenue surplus.

"When there are economic woes, any incumbent gets blamed for not doing something about those woes," he said. "When we're enjoying lavish times, incumbency doesn't have the same stigma."

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