Diane Benson gears up for another try at Young's seat

Candidate anticipates backing from Democratic party officials

Posted: Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Candidate Diane Benson spent little more than $200,000 to pull 40 percent of the statewide vote to U.S. Rep. Don Young's 57 percent last November.

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Young spent nearly 10 times that amount.

Benson said she did well in places where she was able to put together a campaign.

Not only did she beat Young in liberal Juneau, she also beat him in Fort Yukon, the Arctic Circle community the longtime representative calls his home in Alaska.

Benson is trying again and anticipating better backing from Democratic Party officials as she seeks to take on the Republican stalwart.

"They messed up by not getting involved before," she said. "They'll be involved this time around."

Benson wants to make sure that she's the candidate the Democratic Party winds up backing. She is the first candidate to challenge Young in 2008, and new developments suggest it could be an exciting Democratic primary race.

There was the recent revelation in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Young.

It's not clear yet what the investigation is about, but the Anchorage Daily News reported last month that Young has spent more than $260,000 on lawyers in recent months, suggesting a fairly serious issue for the man who has been Alaska's only congressman since 1973.

Without state and national Democratic Party support until the very end last year, Benson's organization relied mostly on local volunteers to set up campaign events so she could meet as many Alaskans as possible face to face.

Urging an end to the Iraq War and hammering Young over his relationship with Northern Mariana Islands business interests, and their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, Benson laid the groundwork for a future race against a weakened incumbent.

Already, Jake Metcalfe, a former Juneau resident and former state Democratic Party chairman, has announced he's going to run against Young as well. More may soon join the race.

Benson figured that her strong showing in 2006 and the revelation that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Young will lead to even more competition this cycle.

"There's always a pack of wolves circling a wounded moose, but that first wolf had to wound it, didn't it?" she said.

Another possible contender is Ethan Berkowitz, a former Alaska House minority leader and 2006 candidate for lieutenant governor.

Benson said Berkowitz called her to let her know he might contend with her to face Young. In an interview with the Juneau Empire on Monday, Benson sounded a bit peeved that Metcalfe didn't do the same.

A year ago, Young's supporters argued that as head of the powerful Transportation Committee, Young could bring federal dollars like no one else. Replacing that power with a freshman, minority Democrat, would be foolish for the state, they said.

Democrats took control of the House in that election, however, and term limits forced Young out of his Transportation Committee position. He's now the ranking Republican member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Benson said the old argument about Young's clout no longer holds true.

"He has a history of power, and a history of abusing power, but he doesn't have that power anymore," she said.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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