It's crunch time for politicians across the nation, and the two top contenders for Alaska's open U.S. Senate seat are criss-crossing the state in a final push to get their message out.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is spending most of the weekend focusing on more conservative areas of state, such as the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Campaign coordinator Kristin Pugh said Murkowski will head to Kenai, Anchorage and back to the Mat-Su Borough on Monday and Tuesday.
Democratic candidate Tony Knowles held his final rally in Juneau on Saturday and also will head to Sitka, Valdez, Bethel, Kotzebue, Kenai, Fairbanks and Anchorage before the Nov. 2 election, according to campaign spokesman Matt McKenna.
"I think they are both going to their base," said Anchorage pollster David Dittman, adding that Knowles is stronger in Southeast Alaska and the Bush.
Anchorage pollsters Ivan Moore, Marc Hellenthal and Dittman agreed that the race is close, according to telephone surveys conducted in recent days.
"It's going to be very, very close," Hellenthal said. "We're talking a typical Alaskan election."
Hellenthal repeated the political pollster's adage that you can tell who's behind based on which candidate is running negative ads and repeating negative slogans.
"This is probably the most competitive and heated race in the past 10 to 14 years," Dittman said.
Voters can tell by the number of campaign television commercials, fliers and unsolicited telephone calls to which they've been subjected. While Knowles has attacked Murkowski on nepotism for her father's appointing her to the Senate seat, Murkowski has charged that a vote for Knowles is a vote for other high-profile Senate Democrats like Hillary Clinton of New York and Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Juneau residents planning to vote absentee who have not yet received their ballot by mail can still do so at voting places in Juneau or by sending in their ballot by fax.
Region 1 Election Supervisor Pam Crowe said voters can vote absentee in most communities at the local municipal clerk's office. Absentee ballots by fax can be printed from the Internet at www.elections.state.ak.us.
The deadline to apply for a fax ballot is 5 p.m. Monday, she said. The ballot can be returned by fax or put in an envelope and mailed to the state Division of Elections, she said. Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2, and ballots returned by fax must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
She said those who are unable to make it to the polls because of age, illness or disability can use a method called special-needs voting. A friend or family member can request a special-needs ballot and take it to the voter and then return the ballot to the Division of Elections.
Juneau residents can vote absentee at Region 1 election offices in the Mendenhall Mall at 9103 Mendenhall Mall Road or downtown at the KeyBank office at 234 Seward St. The Mendenhall Mall location is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and from noon to 4 p.m. today, Oct. 31. The KeyBank location is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Both locations will be open Election Day.
For questions concerning absentee voting call the Region 1 election office 465-3021.
And the advertisements don't come cheap.
"They've raised close to $5 million each." Dittman said, noting that U.S. Senate candidates in Alaska have typically raised much less - as little as $2.5 million.
Elinor Burkett, chairman of the journalism department for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said she watched six consecutive television commercials for Murkowski and Knowles within the last few days.
"It's rude," she said, adding that the saturation of commercials might turn some voters against both candidates. "There are between 20 and 25 in any given hour, and I'm only talking about network TV in Fairbanks."
Political observers across the nation have documented the increased number of registered voters this election season, and Burkett said the increase also applies to young voters. Burkett said she expects most of her students to make it to the polls this year.
Many can't get over the fact that Murkowski was appointed by her father to fill the seat, she said.
"Students won't get beyond the nepotism," she said. "They just won't. It's almost dogmatic."
Benjamin Brown, a campaign coordinator for Murkowski in Juneau, said he has worked to court the youth vote in Juneau, attending candidate forums at Juneau-Douglas High School and the University of Alaska Southeast.
Pollster Moore said he believes young people are more interested in the election this year because of the war in Iraq and the federal deficit. He said the Knowles campaign is trying to appeal to the youth vote through a recent television commercial that depicts two young people discussing the election in and Internet chat room.
"The instant-messaging ad is a clever targeting of young people," he said.
Brown is running the local campaign headquarters for Murkowski out of his home in Douglas and relying on volunteers to canvass the neighborhoods and post signs. He said one of the most effective strategies is asking known Republicans to vote early by absentee ballot.
"We don't have a lot of paid people like the Knowles campaign," Brown said.
McKenna said the Knowles campaign has close to two dozen people working in Juneau, going door-to-door and distributing campaign literature. At campaign headquarters on the third floor of the Marine View Center in downtown Juneau on Friday, about 10 Knowles campaign workers were busy calling voters, making signs and preparing literature to distribute.