Alaskan Incumbents Face Tough Re-Election Battles

Sen. Ted Stevens

Sen. Ted Stevens waves to cameras as he arrives at a U.S. district court for an arraignment on July 31, 2008, in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Wong/Getty Images
Rep. Don Young

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (center) speaks on June 7, 2001, during a press conference. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images

Both Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young are facing tough re-election battles this November, signaling a possible end to an era of Alaskan politics.

The two Republican politicians have been vocal advocates for Alaska in Congress for decades. But they have also been criticized for out-of-control congressional earmarks.

Last week, Stevens was indicted for allegedly failing to disclose gifts and services from a private Alaska oil services company.

Yet of the two men, Young is the one who's getting more roughed up politically.

A 35-year incumbent, Young faces two serious challengers in the Republican primary; both are going after him over his penchant for earmarks. But Young is not quietly ignoring these battles.

At the state Republican convention in March, Young asked the audience, "How many in this room or this community have asked for earmarks? Raise your hands. Raise your hands."

Young had good reason to feel on edge. He is being challenged in the Republican primary by the lieutenant governor. Worse, he has lost the support of Alaska's popular Republican governor, Sarah Palin.

Stevens, on the other hand, is getting more gentle treatment. At 84, he is the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, and he has represented Alaska since 1968. His primary opponents are unknowns. Alaska's political establishment is also reluctant to criticize him — even with federal charges over his head.

In the state capital, Democratic Statehouse member Mary Sattler Nelson tries to explain the roots of this reverence for Stevens. She says Stevens has a lot of cultural sensitivity, especially when he visits rural Alaska. Nelson recalls the time she introduced her new daughter to the senator, and he immediately remembered the person the baby had been named after. Nelson is a Yupik Eskimo, and she says Stevens understands the importance of namesakes in native culture.

Campaigning For Re-Election

Both the Stevens and Young campaigns are practically daring Alaskans not to vote for them.

"For 40 years, I've committed myself to Alaska," Stevens said. "If you want anything back for that, you'll re-elect me. If you want to walk away from that, that's your business."

Young makes essentially the same pitch.

It's an argument that still has sway, but some Alaskans think Young's and Stevens' style of politics may be ending. Gov. Palin is one of those people.

"We were the highest per capita recipient of federal funds all those years," Palin said. "To me, the writing on the wall says that's all changing. It's all going to come to a screeching halt, and that's not such a bad thing."

Palin believes less federal funding will push Alaska to develop more of its resources: natural gas and more drilling for oil — even if it means going into controversial areas such as wilderness lands.

Some think that may be the price to pay if Americans want to see Alaska less reliant on the pork-barrel skills of men like Stevens and Young.

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