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Alaska Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Alaska (0)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


November 18, 2008 Update:

Republican incumbent Don Young held on to his seat after the toughest fight in his political career, defeating his rival Ethan Berkowitz 51% to 45%. Young returned to office despite being mired in an investigation linking him to a corruption scandal.

November 14, 2008 Update:

Alaska is still counting absentee and questioned ballots cast, but Republican Don Young leads with 140,269 votes over his opponent, Democrat Ethan Berkowitz who has 125,184 votes. Some sources have already declared Young the winner.

November 7, 2008 Update:

Republican Don Young leads by 16,887 votes with 99% of precincts reporting and 70,000 ballots outstanding. Final election results will not be announced until a few days because thousands of votes have yet to be counted.

September 16, 2008 Update:

Governor Sarah Palin’s surprise nomination as John McCain’s running mate may have been the only positive storyline for Alaska Republicans in 2008. After the convictions of multiple state legislators and the indictment of Senator Ted Stevens, embattled Representative Don Young’s 239 vote primary victory over Sean Parnell was the icing on the cake for a miserable summer for the GOP.

Young’s victory was not so much due to the incumbent’s popularity (between 50 and 60 percent of Alaskans view him unfavorably), but rather the lackluster campaign of the Lieutenant Governor. Over the course of the primary campaign Parnell’s polling lead continued to shrink when he should have been capitalizing on a drumbeat of corruption allegations against the GOP establishment. Even the endorsement of an uber-popular governor could not save Parnell, and in the end, the challenger failed to overcome the perception that he was just another “empty suit.”

Young’s comeback victory virtually eliminates any chance for Republicans to hold the lone House seat in the Last Frontier State. Despite Governor Palin’s elevation to the Republican ticket, polls show Democrat Ethan Berkowitz leading the incumbent by a nigh-insurmountable seventeen point margin (54-37). The GOP’s only hope is that Young, like indicted Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) in 2006, withdraws from the election and allows the party to name a replacement. Given Young’s public pronouncements to the contrary, his withdrawal seems unlikely, and we may be witnessing the last act for the Don of Alaska.

June 13, 2008 Update:

A poll taken in early May and released in early June, shows former state house minority leader Ethan Berkowitz leading 2006 nominee Diane Benson 42-30 in the Democratic primary, slated to take place on August 26. In the GOP primary, Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell leads Rep. Don Young, but well within the margin of error.

This poll confirms that Berkowitz is the definite favorite on the Democratic side, but also shows that the GOP primary is going to come down to the wire. The poll, which was sponsored by a Republican lobbyist and not any of the candidates, went on to predict a 58-38 win for Berkowitz if Young is nominated, while showing a statistical dead heat in a hypothetical Berkowitz-Parnell matchup. Young, whose unfavorable rating was at 52% in this poll, is looking increasingly unlikely to be the congressman from Alaska next term, but a primary victory by Parnell could improve the chances for the GOP.

May 19, 2008 Update:

This race keeps heating up and incumbent Republican Don Young so far seems unable to put ethics troubles behind him and pull ahead. A recent poll showed likely Democratic nominee Ethan Berkowitz with a 50-40 advantage and Young’s unfavorable rating approaching 60 percent. This is certainly bad general election news for Young, but he still has quite a fight left before guaranteeing his name will appear on the ballot this November. While Berkowitz’s major primary opponent, former state Democratic Party chair Jake Metcalfe recently dropped out, Young has a fierce primary battle looming. The most recent poll showed Young besting primary opponent and current Alaskan Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell by only three points. A tough road lies ahead for the twelve term veteran legislator, but don’t discount the power of incumbency.

April 16, 2008 Update:

The winds of change are blowing in the Alaskan Republican party. For decades, the party was dominated by its two headliners—Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young—each of whom parlayed seniority and powerful committee seats into a veritable pipeline of earmarks to benefit the Alaskan economy. With the election of Governor Sarah Palin over incumbent Republican Frank Murkowski and the ongoing VECO bribery scandal, it seems that stateside Alaska Republicans are less willing to respect their federal elders.

The latest evidence of this GOP trend is Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell’s surprise challenge to Representative Young. Flouting “protect-the-incumbent” conventions everywhere, Governor Palin has enthusiastically endorsed Parnell, creating a schism between the old guard and young guns of the Alaska GOP. Given Young’s inverted approval rating (40/55) and ongoing legal woes (he spent over $1M on legal fees so far), Parnell makes a credible challenge. If Young retires or Parnell defeats the incumbent, Republicans have a strong chance at keeping the seat. If Young prevails in the primary and goes on to face former minority leader Ethan Berkowitz or ex-Democratic chair Jay Metcalfe in the general, the outcome is anyone’s guess.


Background

The key in the Alaska 1st is the legal troubles of Republican incumbent Don Young. Young, a 34-year veteran in Washington, is currently under federal investigation for numerous instances of allegedly taking bribes. Top officials of VECO Corporation, the company which has allegedly been giving Young illegal contributions, have already pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators.

Young’s major opponent is Democrat Ethan Berkowitz, who Alaskans will probably remember from his bid for the governorship in 2006. Berkowitz served for eight years as the Democratic leader in the Alaska House of Representatives, experience which should serve him well in his campaign to unseat Young. No Republicans have announced yet, but if Young should get indicted on bribery charges, look to see this field get much more crowded. If he avoids indictment, then Young should get reelected, as Alaska still sits very firmly in the Red State column.

Candidates

Don Young (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website

Diane Benson – Democrat – 2006 Democratic nominee
Website

Ethan Berkowitz – Democrat – Democratic leader of Alaska House of Representatives from 1998-2006, Democratic candidate for Governor and Lt. Governor in 2006
Website

Sean Parnell – Republican – Lieutenant Governor
Website