Four Democrats, two Libertarians eye Don Young's U.S. House seat

33-year congressman amasses $1.6 million campaign war chest

Posted: Friday, August 11, 2006

Congressman Don Young has some feisty opposition from Democrats and third-party candidates running in the statewide primary election on Aug. 22.

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At one point, six Democrats threw their hats in the ring for the chance to challenge Young in November's general election.

Two of them have withdrawn. Now four Democrats - including two with statewide name recognition - remain in the primary race, as well as two Libertarians.

Young is usually tough to beat. This year, the 33-year congressman has accumulated a campaign war chest of $1.6 million from his political connections all over the United States - from the Deep South to New England and Alaska.

"We try to maintain a position of strength in every election," said Steven Dougherty, Young's state campaign manager.

"We have supporters all over the country ... that is in our Federal Election Commission reports and is public knowledge," Dougherty said.

Young chairs the House's largest committee, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and last year steered a controversial slate of multi-million road and bridge projects to Alaska, and hundreds of other earmarks for major public works around the United States.

Young's early years in Congress were marked by some close-call elections, but since then, Young has solidified his political power at home and around the country, supporters say.

In 2004, Young received the largest number of votes for a single candidate in a statewide Alaska election. Alaska Democrats say that Young's recent actions in Congress on earmarks will be unpopular this time around.

"I'm sure this year is quite different from 2004," said Mike Coumbe, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party.

The so-called "bridges to nowhere," for which Young lobbied heavily, illicited harsh criticism against Alaska from across the nation.

"At least one of the candidates is visible ... (Young) has opposition this time. There is no question that someone is very motivated to defeat him," Coumbe said.

That person is Diane Benson, a Chugiak resident, activist and actress who spent her early childhood in five Southeast communities, including Juneau. She is widely regarded as the front-runner in the Congressional Democratic primary.

Benson said recently, while campaigning in Juneau, that she's not impressed by all the money at play in Washington, D.C., politics.

"We've developed a trend in this country where lobbyists are making the decisions. It's troubling. Who represents the people without the money?" she asked.

But state Republicans said that concerns over spending in Washington don't generate anger from Alaskan voters.

"I don't think it's a material issue," said state Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich on Thursday.

"(Young) has done a good job making sure federal resources come to Alaska," Ruedrich added.

Benson has raised $20,220 so far and has held campaign events in different parts of Alaska, including Juneau and other Southeast towns.

The state Democratic party isn't endorsing candidates until after the primary. Benson is the only candidate who has dropped off campaign brochures and signs at the party's headquarters in Anchorage, Coumbe said.

Other Democrats in the race include Frank Vondersaar and Todd Hyde, both of Homer, and Ray Metcalfe, a former Republican state legislator and Anchorage real estate broker who previously ran Alaska's now-defunct Republic Moderate Party.

Vondersaar is the only Democrat besides Benson who has filed campaign disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. He reports receiving $1,092 in campaign donations.

Libertarian contenders include Alexander Crawford and Sol Gerstenfeld, both of Anchorage.

A Green Party candidate, Eva Ince, of Anchorage, intends to run against Young in the general election.

Government corruption, the war in Iraq and spying on the public is a theme in a number of the Democratic and third-party Congressional candidate's platforms.

Hyde's campaign Web site, for example, features a huge, blinking eye ringed with a partial copy of the National Security Agency's official seal. On his platform: Repealing the federal Patriot Act and stopping the Bush administration's "illegal spying."

Benson and Metcalfe have both attacked Young's Congressional record, though Metcalfe has been more focused on his long-time political and legal battle: Criticizing state Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, and his father, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

Metcalfe said Thursday that if elected, his first order of business would be to ask the General Accounting Office to audit a $3.5 million appropriation U.S. Sen. Stevens had requested for the Federal National Archives to purchase a property in Anchorage a few years ago.

Ruedrich said Thursday, "I've always enjoyed listening to Ray's fantasies."

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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