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Selection may shake up state and nation

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008

With Alaska's most popular politician now running for vice president, the political playing field in the state has changed in an instant. That may be good news for some embattled Republicans.

"This helps all Republicans," said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. "There's an opportunity for us to go to the polls and support an Alaskan on the presidential ticket."

That may help embattled U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who is facing a tough challenge from Mark Begich, Anchorage's Democratic mayor, while fighting a federal indictment that charged him with taking unreported gifts from corrupt oil company executives.

Bringing more Republicans to the polls also could help U.S. Rep. Don Young, who is narrowly leading challenger Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell while waiting for absentee and other ballots to be counted. Young is facing a federal criminal investigation of his own.

McCain's choice of Palin should solidify support for the Republican ticket in Alaska, where McCain has not been popular.

In the Republican primary in Alaska, McCain placed fourth, ending behind Ron Paul, likely due to his opposition to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Palin's staff said she talked to McCain as recently as Sunday in a so-far-unsuccessful effort to change his position.

At the same time, Democratic candidate Barack Obama has made the most aggressive effort Democrats have made in years in traditionally Republican Alaska, staffing a campaign and opening offices in Juneau and elsewhere.

Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, leader of the Senate's Republican minority, praised the selection of his ally Palin.

"I think it certainly helps here for McCain," he said. "Whether it has a lot of bleed-over for other Republicans who would be on the same ballot, I don't know."

Democrats in both the state House and Senate are making spirited attempts to win more seats in each body.

Some Democratic party leaders had expressed hope privately that the Republican party's disarray in Alaska might discourage Republican voters from going to the polls, but those hopes could be dashed by McCain's choice of Palin.

Therriault said he'd miss Palin's support for Alaska issues if she takes national office.

"If we do lose her as a cheerleader on the ground, we gain a spokesman for our causes on the national level," he said.

While Palin is now running for national office, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell is still hoping to win the nomination for U.S. Congress against incumbent Congressman Don Young.

Young and Parnell are waiting for final absentee and other votes to be counted, with Young holding a slight lead.

If both Palin and Parnell were to move to new jobs, under the Alaska Constitution, Attorney General Talis Colberg would become governor.

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



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