Both Democrats running for the right to face Ted Stevens in November's general election say the state's senior U.S. senator is out to get them.
In his campaign material, Frank Vondersaar of Homer calls himself "a political prisoner of Stevens and his criminal co-conspirators" since 1986. Theresa Nangle Obermeyer of Anchorage also calls herself a "political prisoner" and claims Stevens "jailed me for 29 days" in 1996, the first time she ran against the Republican U.S. senator.
When told an article was being written about the candidates, Democratic Party Chairman Scott Sterling of Wasilla said, "You're kidding me!"
Sterling quickly added that Vondersaar and Obermeyer had addressed the party's state convention and were given the usual courtesies. But he explained Alaska Democrats were focused on electing Fran Ulmer as governor and assistance likely would not go to anyone running against Stevens.
"Running against a guy whose record of bringing home the pork is unparalleled is pretty tough," Sterling said.
However unusual their claims, either Vondersaar or Obermeyer will win the Aug. 27 Democratic primary. And one of them will face-off Nov. 5 against Stevens, a 34-year incumbent celebrated for channeling federal funding into Alaska programs and projects.
Vondersaar, a lawyer and engineer, said he worked in nuclear weapons intelligence for the U.S. Air Force from 1972 to 1985. After deciding he was under surveillance by the Department of Defense, he said he wrote Stevens asking for help. Vondersaar said he was sent to a psychiatric ward for six months, discharged and kept under surveillance.
Vondersaar, who lost to Obermeyer in the 1996 U.S. Senate Democratic primary, said since moving to Alaska, "they have me in a bubble." And he claimed Stevens is part of the "they."
"I don't know how closely he was involved in the original conspiracy, but the conspiracy continues," Vondersaar said from a Homer radio station where he arranged to use the phone for an interview because he has no home phone.
Obermeyer, an educator, real estate broker and frequent candidate who served one term on the Anchorage School Board, has claimed for years that Stevens repeatedly blocked her husband Tom's attempts to enter the Alaska Bar. She also alleged Stevens' entry to the bar was improper.
She was charged with disorderly conduct in 1995 after an altercation with a secretary in a federal building in Anchorage. She was placed on probation but served time, including some at an out-of-state federal prison, for violating probation. She also was arrested in 1998 after allegedly disrupting an Anchorage School Board meeting.
"I ... have been jailed and targeted for many years for telling the truth. I have weathered a total of 14 fabricated court charges. Alaska Bench and Bar have spent millions to attempt to silence my husband and me," she wrote in an e-mail message answering campaign questions.
Stevens categorically denies the allegations and has been part of no conspiracy, said campaign spokesman Tim McKeever. He called the claims "ridiculous."
Beyond their complaints against Stevens and others in "the system," Vondersaar and Obermeyer have somewhat traditional Democratic views of a number of major issues such as support for fisheries, putting a subsistence measure on the ballot and keeping federal funds flowing into social-service programs. But their main message alleges systematic corruption, harassment and/or misuse of government powers.
Obermeyer's Web site, tobermeyer.info, contains links to numerous court filings and other documents alleging multiple misdeeds.
"To date, I have found that everyone bows to the favors and money in the U.S. Treasury that Mr. Stevens presumably distributes with unrelenting power," Obermeyer said.
Vondersaar's Web site, vondersaar.tripod.com/SEN, is less extensive, but also features allegations of wrongdoing.
"I am running for U.S. Senate because corrupt, old-guard fascist politicians must be replaced by democratic leaders, like me, if the U.S. is to remain a great country and meet future challenges," he wrote.
Ed Schoenfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.