Palin's selection may help boost Alaska Republicans

Posted: Sunday, August 31, 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 could also 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 to see if he'll be facing Democrat Ethan Berkowitz in the fall general election.

Berkowitz spokesman David Shurtleff said Palin may benefit Republicans in general, but having ethics crusader Palin on the ballot won't help Young.

"Having Palin on the ticket certainly won't help Don Young," he said.

The liberal Democrat has joined with Palin on more than one ethics issue over the years.

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

In the Republican primary in Alaska, McCain placed fourth, 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.

Despite clashing with Palin on some issues, Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau, questioned whether Palin should be considering leaving Alaska less than half way through her first term as governor.

"It is going to leave an enormous hole in leadership for the state at a time when we need leadership with an energy crisis and fiscal uncertainties," Doll said.

"This is not a good time for this to happen."

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail

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