Democrats optimistic about '08 election

Party sees opportunity in congressional races

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2007

For 27 years, Republicans have had a lock on all three seats in Alaska's congressional delegation. Could their long monopoly be coming to an end?

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Democrats would like to believe so. For what could be the first time ever, the National Democratic Party is ready to put real money into the race for Alaska's lone congressional seat, and state Democrats hope a Senate candidate will garner similar support.

With a widening federal investigation into political corruption in Alaska and a changing political climate in Washington, D.C., the 2008 election looks a lot less predictable than past campaigns.

The names of prominent Democrats are being touted as possible challengers to incumbents Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens - both known for bringing home federal dollars, and both sides are marshaling their forces for what promises to be a bruising, expensive and unpredictable campaign season.

"Both Stevens and Young do an effective job of returning dollars to the state, so the question is the extent to which national events and other developments will have a bearing on Alaska races," said Gerald McBeath, professor of political science at the University of Alaska.

Both incumbents are now members of the minority after Democrats took control of the U.S. House and Senate in 2006.

But more importantly, McBeath said ethics, which played a role in the 2006 campaign, could do so again if the corruption probe continues to grow or more questions arise over federal earmarks, such as the dollars Young directed to a Florida road project.

Recent news reports pointed out that the road was not supported by the district's Republican congressman but would benefit a major contributor to Young's campaign. Young was also touched by the scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff when a former aide pleaded guilty to accepting gifts in exchange for official acts on the lobbyist's behalf.

Questions also have been raised about renovations to Stevens' Girdwood home and his ties to a former oil industry executive who pleaded guilty to bribing legislators.

Stevens also is linked to the FBI probe through his son, former Senate President Ben Stevens, whose offices were among those searched by federal agents last August. The younger Stevens has not been charged.

"Ethics-related accusations and charges in Alaska politics are for the most part ephemeral, they come and they go. The question here is their sticking power," McBeath said.

Democrats are counting on the ethics issues sticking around.

The National Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has indicated it would provide financial and logistical support to a strong challenger against Young, said spokesman Fernando Cuevas.

"In 2006 we were very successful going into districts where there were ethically challenged incumbents, and we think (Don Young) is very vulnerable," Cuevas said.

The national party did not get involved in the 2006 election which Young won by 57 percent. His challenger Diane Benson, a Democrat, has filed to run again.

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