Skip to content


Alaska Possesses the Region’s Top Senate Battle


Filing deadline: June 1
Primary: Aug. 24

Incumbent: Lisa Murkowski (R)
1st term: Appointed December 2002
Outlook: Tossup

The battle between rookie Murkowski and former two-term Gov. Tony Knowles (D) could be the marquee Senate matchup of the cycle, and it is sure to break all fundraising records for political races in the Last Frontier.

Murkowski was plucked from the Alaska House of Representatives a year ago to serve in the Senate by her father, former Sen. Frank Murkowski (R), who as the newly elected governor was entitled to select his successor on Capitol Hill. Naturally, the choice was met with howls of nepotism.

Since then, Lisa Murkowski has worked hard on the rudiments of the job and has proved to be an aggressive fundraiser as well. She has lucked out — to a degree — as two potentially tough Republican primary challengers, Teamsters official Jerry Hood and businessman Johne Binkley have decided — in the name of party unity — not to run. Now, only former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin is still weighing a GOP primary bid. In a very Republican state, Democrats prosper when the GOP is split.

In Knowles, who served as Anchorage mayor before he became governor, the Democrats have their best possible candidate. A former restaurateur, Knowles compiled a moderate, pro-business record as governor and worked closely with the state’s all-powerful extractive industries. He plans to pitch voters on the idea that it will help Alaska to have a Democrat in Washington, pushing the state’s priorities alongside Democratic Senators.

For all of Knowles’ electoral successes, Alaska is a very Republican state, and Knowles has won when the state GOP has been divided. Working against Murkowski, however, is the fact that her father has proven to be fairly unpopular in his year in the statehouse, and voters may hold that against her.

Through Sept. 30, Murkowski had $1.2 million in the bank. Knowles had $310,000.


Incumbent: Don Young (R)
16th term (75 percent)
Outlook: Safe Republican

So far, no one has dared step forward to challenge Young — with good reason.

Filing deadline: Dec. 5, 2003
Primary: March 2

Incumbent: Barbara Boxer (D)
2nd term (53 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Republicans hope to ride the wave of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s extraordinary victory in the Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election to a win over Boxer in November 2004.

But the old cliché that you can’t beat somebody with nobody may apply. The GOP simply does not have any obvious strong contenders in the Golden State, with the filing deadline fast approaching.

But that could, of course, change if an exciting late entry emerges. If not, the GOP primary fight could come down to former Los Altos Hills Mayor Toni Casey, former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin and state Assemblyman Tony Strickland, who are all newcomers to the statewide stage.

Casey is banking on her support from Silicon Valley to pull her through. Strickland is a favorite of party conservatives. Marin, however, a moderate Latina who supports abortion rights, may have the most potential — and the tacit support of the White House.

Former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, the last Republican to win statewide before Schwarzenegger, may also get into the Senate race, and polls show him a lot closer to Boxer than the other three.

But Boxer, despite the “too liberal” tag that Republicans will place on her, must be considered the heavy favorite, for now. Having a $3 million advantage over potential challengers doesn’t hurt, either.


3rd district
Open seat: Doug Ose (R) is retiring
Outlook: Likely Republican

Ose, who seemed certain to run for Senate in 2004, surprised political observers by forgoing the Senate race and announcing that he would honor his pledge to serve only three terms. Now two well-known conservatives are vying to replace him in this Sacramento-area district: state Sen. Rico Oller (R) and former state Attorney General Dan Lungren (R).

Oller is a 45-year-old movement conservative who is popular with grass roots activists and has been endorsed by the Club for Growth. Lungren, a former House Member from the Long Beach area who was the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in 1998, has been emphasizing his law enforcement credentials; former Whitewater Special Counsel Kenneth Starr appeared at a fundraiser for him.

Oller has the head start in fundraising, with $365,000 on hand as of Sept. 30 — boosted by $250,000 from his own pocket. Lungren, who was one of former President Ronald Reagan’s favorite House Members, should be able to keep pace financially.

The question is whether a moderate Republican in the mold of Ose enters the race (Tom Sullivan, a moderate radio talk show host, pulled out) — or whether the Democrats can field a competitive candidate. State Sen. Deborah Ortiz and state Rep. Darrell Steinberg are possible Democratic candidates.

20th district
Open seat: Cal Dooley (D) is retiring
Outlook: Safe Democratic

The battle for this Central Valley district is in the Democratic primary between Lisa Quigley, Dooley’s longtime chief of staff, and former state Sen. Jim Costa.

Costa certainly has all the institutional support — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), several House Members, and scores of state and local elected officials — based on his 30 years in state and local politics. He has represented all of the Congressional district turf in the state Legislature.

But Quigley has proven to be an aggressive fundraiser so far, with $128,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30. Costa did not raise money in the third quarter, but he has proved his fundraising mettle by taking in more than $2 million for his successful 1994 state Senate victory.

Republicans hoped to compete there, but their top potential candidates bowed out when Costa got in — another sign that the veteran lawmaker must be considered the favorite for now. Peter Vasilovic (R), a political consultant, is running.

Filing deadline: July 20
Primary: Sept. 18


Incumbent: Daniel Inouye (D)
7th term (79 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

The only thing that can keep the 79-year-old incumbent from another term is his health, which has been shaky but not bad enough for him to contemplate retirement yet. Even Republicans view the decorated World War II veteran as a state treasure.


2nd district
Incumbent: Ed Case (D)
1st term (44 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

Case won a crowded race to fill the final weeks of the late Rep. Patsy Mink’s (D) term in the 107th Congress and then won an equally crowded second special election to fill Mink’s full term in the 108th.

Although there are many ambitious politicians who would love that seat, no one has emerged to challenge Case so far, and unless he gets a top-tier Democratic primary challenge this time, he is likely to have a long and prosperous career in Washington.


Filing deadline: May 17
Primary: Sept. 7

Incumbent: Harry Reid (D)
3rd term (48 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

The Republicans’ inability to find a competitive challenger to Reid, the Senate Minority Whip who won re-election in 1998 by just 428 votes, has been one of the extraordinary stories of the cycle to date.

Rep. Jim Gibbons (R) flirted with the race for months before announcing in late August that he would not run. Several statewide officeholders have taken a look, but most have declined to run and everyone else is expected to follow suit. Republicans may be left with conservative activist Richard Ziser as their nominee.

By his own admission, Reid learned his lesson from his near political death experience of 1998 and has been a monster about fundraising and lining up support. With the all-powerful gaming industry squarely behind him, Reid is sitting on a $3.7 million bank account. Even some of the state’s Republican establishment is helping him.

In a state with a quickly changing population where President Bush hopes to do well, this race, for Republicans, must be considered an opportunity missed.


3rd district
Incumbent: Jon Porter (R)
1st term (56 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Porter is either very good or very lucky. In a new district outside Las Vegas that was created as a tossup, Porter drew an ethically challenged Democratic opponent in 2002 and won by 19 points.

This cycle, Democrats have not been able to lure anyone into the race, although state Rep. John Oseguera, a firefighter, is considering it. Time is wasting, and Porter was sitting on $402,000 as of Sept. 30.


Filing deadline: March 9
Primary: May 18


Incumbent: Ron Wyden (D)
2nd term (61 percent)
Outlook: Safe Democratic

With only frequent candidate Pavel Goberman (R) in the race so far, Wyden has no reason to sweat. Sen. Gordon Smith (R) and Wyden have a nonaggression pact, and Smith is doing nothing to recruit a viable challenger.


1st district
Incumbent: David Wu (D)
3rd term (63 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Two wealthy Republicans are vying for the GOP nod: Tim Phillips, owner of a brokerage house in downtown Portland, and Goli Ameri, a telecommunications consultant. The primary has startled some Republicans and encouraged others. The party had hoped for a wealthy challenger to Wu who could appeal to various elements of the electorate in a district that runs from downtown Portland to the Pacific Ocean. GOP leaders are not quite sure what to do with two, however, and if the primary race becomes nasty, Wu should skate to re-election.

Even if the GOP emerges from the primary unified, Wu is well-armed for the campaign, with a treasury exceeding $1 million.

5th district
Incumbent: Darlene Hooley (D)
4th term (55 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

Republicans have targeted Hooley for the past several cycles in a district that preferred George W. Bush over Al Gore by 2 points in 2000 (though Ralph Nader also took 5 percent). But they have always found a way to lose — or she has always found a way to win, depending on how you look at it.

This time, establishment Republicans believe they have the candidate to finish the job in lawyer Jim Zupancic, a former school board member who ran unsuccessfully for the state Legislature in 2002. Zupancic has developed a message designed to appeal to conservatives and moderates alike.

But Zupancic’s nomination is not a sure thing. Brian Boquist, the GOP nominee in 2000 and 2002, insists that he’s running again, even though he’s a military reservist who expects to be stationed in Iraq through March. Boquist still commands a loyal following among conservative activists in the Willamette Valley district.

State Sen. Jackie Winters (R), a popular black restaurateur, has also entered the race. But while she boasts of her friendship with President Bush, many observers believe her recent vote in favor of a tax increase in the Legislature could prove fatal in a Republican primary.

Hooley continues to work hard and run hard. She had $686,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30.


Filing deadline: July 30
Primary: Sept. 14

Incumbent: Patty Murray (D)
2nd term (58 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Republicans hoped to lure moderate Seattle-area Rep. Jennifer Dunn into the race against Murray, but she declined, as she has before. Next, they launched a long courtship of Rep. George Nethercutt, who finally relented.

Nethercutt enjoys a reputation as a giant killer, having knocked off then-Speaker Tom Foley (D) in the Republican wave of 1994. But Nethercutt broke a term-limit pledge — not the biggest sin, necessarily, but significant for a Congressman who made such a big deal about politicians who don’t know when to leave when he ran against Foley. And the fact that his district is in sparsely populated Eastern Washington is a handicap.

But Republicans believe Murray can be beaten. Her remarks last December that she understands why some people in poor Middle Eastern countries would sympathize with Osama bin Laden were fodder for a round of attacks, and the statements are sure to be unearthed during the campaign. Nethercutt may also be vulnerable on the issues of the Middle East and national security, after telling a town hall meeting in October that the news about the rebuilding of Iraq is being crowded out by headlines about the deaths of soldiers.

What these flareups show is that this should be one of the nastiest Senate races of the cycle. Murray had an impressive $3.3 million in her campaign treasury as of Sept. 30; Nethercutt had a combined $620,000 in his Senate and House accounts.

College professor Reed Davis is also seeking the GOP nomination.


1st district
Incumbent: Jay Inslee (D)
3rd term (56 percent)
Outlook: Likely Democratic

Republicans are high on their leading candidate, King County Commissioner Jane Hague. She is a political moderate, a veteran and a well-respected county and local officeholder. Hague’s campaign is just getting under way, so it is hard to take the full measure of her as a candidate. She raised $55,000 in the third quarter and had $45,000 in the bank.

While Inslee may be attacked as a carpetbagger (he represented a central Washington district from 1993 to 1995) and for flirting with the idea of running for governor in 2004, he still has a good hold on this Puget Sound district. He also had a substantial amount of money in the bank as of Sept. 30: $812,000. And the district gave Al Gore and Ralph Nader a combined 57 percent of the vote in 2000.

2nd district
Incumbent: Rick Larsen (D)
2nd term (50 percent)
Outlook: Leans Democratic

This northern Puget Sound district is tough for Democrats: Al Gore would have won 48 percent of the vote there in 2000. And Larsen has received only half the votes in each of his two elections.

But he is a pragmatic moderate and has worked parochial interests well. He is also doing well financially, sitting on $464,000 as of Sept. 30.

The leading Republican contender is Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair, a popular local officeholder. It remains to be seen, however, whether she has any fundraising ability or districtwide appeal.

5th district
Open seat: George Nethercutt (R) is running for Senate
Outlook: Leans Republican

This race could be close, but the numbers favor Republicans.

Democrats are very pleased with their recruit, Don Barbieri, the former CEO of a hotel chain who serves on a state economic advisory commission and has a wealth of contacts in the business community. He is a political moderate who knows the more populated areas of the district well.

Four solid Republicans are already running hard, and it is difficult to pick a frontrunner at this early stage. The candidates are attorney Shaun Cross, state Rep. Cathy McMorris, state Sen. Larry Sheahan and Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk. None has been a fundraising dynamo to date, but that should change.

For all of the Democrats’ optimism, Nethercutt has never had to sweat re-election there, and George W. Bush had a 19-point margin over Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race. The GOP nominee will also be boosted by Nethercutt’s presence in the Senate race.

8th district
Incumbent: Jennifer Dunn (R)
6th term (60 percent)
Outlook: Likely Republican

Democrats have long fretted about their inability to find a solid challenger against Dunn in a suburban/rural district that preferred Al Gore and Ralph Nader by a combined 5 points over George W. Bush. But this cycle they think they found a good one in Alex Alben, a veteran of the high-tech industry.

Alben is a political neophyte, but the Democrats believe they have some issues they can use against Dunn, including her dalliance with the Senate race and reports that she was considering leaving the House for a lucrative lobbying job.

Dunn is a savvy political operative who is carrying $1.15 million in her campaign account and is still the favorite until Alben proves she should be considered otherwise. He jump-started his campaign with a $100,000 loan.