ANCHORAGE - Alaska Republicans on Tuesday were deciding whether the taint of corruption would end the political career of Don Young, Alaska's lone congressman for the last 35 years.
Young, under federal investigation for his ties to the oil field services company VECO Corp. but not charged, faced a stiff challenge from Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell.
With 70 percent of the precincts counted, it was nearly a dead heat, with Parnell holding a 232-vote lead. Ethan Berkowitz led the Democratic race with 56 percent of the vote, ahead of Diane Benson, who had 36 percent.
Young's campaign said Young would spend Tuesday night at his home in Fort Yukon, a village of about 600 on the Yukon River about 154 miles northeast of Fairbanks.
As results trickled in, Parnell said he was satisfied with how his campaign went.
"We had five months to get up and running, and I think we did a good job with what we had," he said.
"I just wanted Alaska voters to have an alternative to what's happening in Washington," he said. "I wanted them to know that they would have somebody there who would be for a responsible stewardship of taxpayer money and for openness and honesty in government. I wanted to offer them that reform alternative."
Benjamin Neuls, voting at a south Anchorage precinct Tuesday, said he has supported Young in past elections but chose Parnell this year.
"I think it's time for a fresh face," he said.
Neuls, a caregiver for the developmentally disabled and a registered Republican, said he met Parnell and came away impressed.
"He just seemed to be open and honest," Neuls said. "He didn't seem to be elitist. Very approachable."
Parnell entered the race in dramatic fashion, blindsiding Young at the state Republican convention with his announcement. But the question remains whether Parnell squandered any chances of unseating Young despite the backing of his popular boss, Gov. Sarah Palin.
Also running was Gabrielle LeDoux, a state representative from Kodiak.
Young was the beneficiary of fundraising efforts by former VECO Corp. chairman Bill Allen, who pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state lawmakers and sent work crews to remodel and expand the home of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.
A former aide to Young, Mark Zachares, pleaded guilty to conspiracy for accepting $30,000 of tickets to sporting events and concerts from congressional influence peddler Jack Abramoff.
The FBI is investigating Young's ties to a Florida developer who held a fundraiser for Young in 2005 and then benefited from a change Young made to a federal highway bill as chairman of the House Transportation Committee. The U.S. House requested the Justice Department investigate the Florida project.
Even Young's greatest strength, the ability to deliver federal dollars to Alaska, has become a liability in some circles. Highlighted by two bridge projects, Young and Stevens have been synonymous with pork barrel spending.
Young also has refused to explain why his campaign has spent more than $1 million in campaign donations on legal fees.
Vincent Voss said he decided to stick with Young despite ongoing investigations. He did not know much about Parnell, he said, and Alaska needs the benefits it can reap from Young's seniority.
"I don't think the other options are better," Voss said.
Young's support for a huge transportation bill and other votes, such as a boost to the minimum wage, made him a target of the Club for Growth, a national political organization that provides financial support from members to congressional candidates.
The group found a soul mate in Parnell, who has denounced Young for ethical lapses and abusing the spending process.
Young's response: Every earmark provided was a response to Alaskans stating a need. He has slammed Parnell for embracing the backing of an anti-Alaska special interest group.
The winner will move on to the November election to face either Berkowitz, the Democratic front-runner and former House Minority Leader, or Benson, who lost an election to Young two years ago.
Berkowitz said he expected to maintain his lead as the evening progressed.
"We ran a campaign based on the issues and the voters responded," he said.
Berkowitz focused much of his campaign on energy issues, the high prices Alaskans pay and possibilities for lowering them, including alternative energy.
Anchorage school psychologist Joan Bohmann voted for Berkowitz.
"I respected his work when he was in the Legislature," Bohmann said. "I respect what he stands for. I respect his approach to the campaign."
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