Skip to content

WEST: Last Frontier Offers a Marquee Senate Matchup; Primary Complicates Matters for L. Murkowski

Filing deadline: June 1
Primary: Aug. 24

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

This marquee Senate race is on pace to make history as the most expensive campaign ever run in the Last Frontier.

Murkowski has banked more than $1.5 million in her bid to win the seat to which she was appointed by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), when he left the Senate to become the state’s chief executive. Former two-term Gov. Tony Knowles has given Democrats hope that he can wrest the seat from the GOP with his $893,000 in cash on hand. The most recent independent poll showed them tied.

Just as significantly, Murkowski has drawn a Republican challenger from the right: former state Senate President Mike Miller, who until recently worked for her father. If that was not enough of a splash, religious conservatives proved that they were not going to give Murkowski a pass on her abortion record — which is mixed — when Alaska Right to Life backed Miller.

The nepotism issue has dogged Murkowski throughout her brief Senate career and, coupled with her father’s stormy tenure in Juneau, could be a deciding factor in both the primary and general elections.

Lest the matter fade away, Democrats and the state Legislature have kept it in the news with ongoing efforts to change the way Senate vacancies are filled in the state.

While President Bush is expected to give Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as hefty a drubbing in Alaska as he gave then-Vice President Al Gore in 2000, Knowles could again benefit from a divided state GOP and eke out another win. One potential stumbling block for Knowles: the presence of Green Party candidate Jim Sykes on the Senate ballot. Sykes took 7 percent of the vote in the 2002 Senate election — more than enough to tip the results in the Republicans’ favor this time if the race is very close.

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

The only Democrat who has come forward to challenge the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure chairman is frequent candidate Frank Vondersaar.

Filing deadline: passed
Primary: passed

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

Republican nominee Bill Jones, a farmer, former state legislator and two-term California secretary of state, is a solid, well-respected political veteran.

But despite all his time in politics — he also unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2002 — Jones is not very well known in the state and is badly underfunded, trailing Boxer $5.9 million to $216,000 as of March 31 in cash on hand.

Republicans repeatedly call Boxer too liberal for the electorate, and they are hoping that some of rookie Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) magic can rub off on Jones.

Still, the issue environment, Boxer’s tenacity and financial advantage, and the likely outcome of the presidential contest in the state, all point to a third term for the Senator.

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

Former state Attorney General Dan Lungren, who also spent a decade in Congress, was the upset winner of the brutal March 2 Republican primary for this Sacramento-area seat. And while national Republicans have rushed to embrace him, there is the potential for some lingering resentment among the 61.5 percent of GOP primary voters who pulled the lever for someone else. Despite being the GOP nominee for governor in 1998, Lungren has never been a beloved figure in the party.

But while the Democratic nominee, financial adviser Gabe Castillo, has been emphasizing his conservative credentials, he is so far behind Lungren in the money chase that he is unlikely to be able to take advantage of any Republican dissonance.

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

Former state Sen. Jim Costa won a bruising Democratic primary over ex-Dooley Chief of Staff Lisa Quigley. The margin of victory was impressive — 71 percent to 29 percent — but the cost was nevertheless great.

Costa spent more than $850,000, and Quigley hit him hard for cozying up to special interests in Sacramento and on personal issues. Costa was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in the 1980s, and police found drug paraphernalia in his home in 1994.

Still, Costa was an accomplished lawmaker and must be considered the favorite in a district that leans Democratic. But the Republican nominee, state Sen. Roy Ashburn, who initially balked at making the race, is also well known and well respected in the central valley.

National Republicans view this as their one opportunity — however long the odds — to steal a seat in the Golden State, so they may be willing to spend some money there.

Filing deadline: July 20
Primary: Sept. 18

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

So far, the only person brave enough to take on the entrenched incumbent is political newcomer Brian Evans (D) — an actor and Las Vegas lounge singer who is attacking Inouye from the left. The 33-year-old performer describes himself as an advocate for legalized marijuana and same-sex marriage.

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

Case picked up a Republican rival in the form of Honolulu City Councilman Mike Gabbard in April but Gabbard will be hard pressed to stop Case’s return to Washington. The district went 56 percent for former Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and must be considered safe for Democrats.

Filing deadline: today
Primary: Sept. 7

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

Republicans must view their inability to coax a strong competitor into this race as an opportunity missed. While the national GOP would have liked nothing better than to tie the Minority Whip down with a tough race like the one he faced in 1998 when he won by just 428 votes, only conservative activist Richard Ziser (R) appears willing to battle the feisty Reid and his more than $4.6 million war chest.

Numerous GOP state officeholders have concluded — after waiting for Rep. Jim Gibbons (R) to finally decide against a run — that they lost too much time and could never catch up with Reid’s prodigious fundraising.

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

After despairing that they might not find anyone to challenge the freshman Republican, Democrats were ecstatic when this newly created suburban Las Vegas district moved from likely Republican to a potential tossup in mid-March.

That’s when former casino honcho Tom Gallagher (D) jumped into the race and banked more than $426,000 in just a few weeks. Democrats hope his personal wealth and business connections can bring this district, where registered Republicans barely out-number Democrats, into the blue column.

Porter, always knowing he would be a top target for the cycle, has banked more than $1.2 million and should be formidable given the district’s demographics and his personal affability, which even Democrats acknowledge.

Filing deadline: passed
Primary: May 18

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

Six Republicans, one Green and one Libertarian are gunning for Wyden. But given that not a one has a lick of elective office experience, let alone an iota of name recognition, Wyden should cruise to a third term.

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

Republicans wanted a rich GOP challenger to take on Wu but instead they got two: Tim Phillips, a Portland brokerage house owner, and Goli Ameri, a telecommunications consultant.

They have slugged it out in a heated primary that saw everything from accusations of xenophobia to allegations of professional misconduct.

Ameri led the money chase going into Tuesday’s primary, having banked more than $443,000 as of March 31. Phillips had about $202,000.

Even if the winner’s battle scars can heal before November, he or she may be broke and vulnerable to the well-rested Wu, who was sitting on more than $1 million at the first quarter’s end.

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

Once again it appears the GOP has an embarrassment of riches that might hurt the party’s chances of picking up a seat from a Democrat it views as vulnerable.

Hooley has been a Republican target for the past few cycles but could benefit from a fractured Republican Party. Attorney Jim Zupancic and state Sen. Jackie Winters papered the Willamette Valley district with dueling barbs, endorsements and propaganda.

Zupancic hit Winters hard for her vote in favor of Measure 30 — a huge tax initiative designed to shore up the state budget that was rejected by Beaver State voters — and Winters usually struck back by boasting of endorsements or support from party stalwarts.

Zupancic banked more than three times as much money as Winters, a local restaurant owner, before the primary, closing the first quarter with almost $180,000.

That pales in comparison to Hooley who had more than $1 million in cash on hand, a buffer against the fact that President Bush defeated former Vice President Al Gore in the 5th by 2 points in 2000.

Filing deadline: July 30
Primary: Sept. 14

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

Republicans hope “giant killer” Rep. George Nethercutt (R) — who defeated then-House Speaker Tom Foley (D) in 1994 — has an encore presentation left in him. In what is expected to become one of the nastiest races this cycle, things have gotten off to a pretty quick and heated start in the Evergreen State.

Nethercutt has trotted big-name Republicans out West for splashy fundraisers and taken to attacking Murray’s positions on pending Senate legislation almost weekly.

Nevertheless, the Spokane Congressman has miles to go to overtake Murray in the more populous, western part of the state — as evidenced by early polls and cash-on-hand totals.

Murray, the not splashy but effective campaigner who uses her soccer mom image to her advantage, had banked almost $5 million as of March 31 and leads substantially in all public polls thus far.

Nethercutt, who is tapping Republican leaders left and right to help him catch up, had more than $1.7 million. But unless Nethercutt can literally move mountains to get his name as well-known on Murray’s side of the Cascades as it is on his, Murray is likely to win.

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

Due to the highly competitive nature of this district, Larsen always has to be careful. But right now, he seems a heavy favorite for re-election — and may be one of those incumbents in shaky districts who grows stronger every cycle.

The likely Republican nominee, Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair, has yet to demonstrate an ability to raise a lot of money or attract wide support in this northern Puget Sound district. Through March 31, Sinclair had just $10,000 in the bank. Larsen had $730,000.

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

Democrats are excited about this race and it could be close, but the demographics favor the GOP.

Former hotel chain chief Don Barbieri (D) is raking in money and tapping key contacts built up over a career as a civic and business leader in Spokane and across the state, while three credible Republicans work to get a lock on the GOP nomination.

State Sen. Larry Sheahan and state Rep. Cathy McMorris presumably start with an advantage over attorney Shaun Cross as they both already serve some constituents in the vast district.

With almost $130,000, McMorris had the most money banked as of March 31, but Sheahan, who was close with about $110,000, is more widely known, according to recent polls. Cross has the biggest hurdle to clear in raising his name identification, but he is very competitive on the money front, having banked $120,000.

Barbieri’s war chest dwarfed all of his Republican rivals’ — he had about $480,000 in cash on hand — a significant portion of which came from his own fortune.

Barbieri, who is staking out middle-of-the-road positions, might be the only kind of Democrat who could win this seat but he still has the electoral numbers to confront.

President Bush won the district by 19 points in 2000 and Nethercutt was last re-elected with 63 percent of the vote in 2002.

8th district
Open seat: Jennifer Dunn (R) is retiring
Outlook: Tossup

Dunn blew new life into Democrats’ hopes of winning this competitive Seattle suburban district when she stunned everyone by announcing in January that she would not seek a seventh term.

Suddenly, former RealNetworks executive Alex Alben, whom Democrats already liked for his ability to contribute heavily to his inaugural campaign, seemed to have the upper hand. That quickly changed when King County Sheriff Dave Reichert declared himself a Republican and a contender.

The popular lawman who brought the infamous Green River killer Gary Ridgway to justice undeniably has a name identification advantage but his first-quarter fundraising numbers were less than impressive. He banked less than $55,000 while former U.S. Attorney and Republican National Committeewoman Diane Tebelius threw her hat into the ring later but pulled in almost $160,000 as of March 31.

State Sen. Luke Esser, the majority floor leader, got in a bit late and was only able to keep $42,000 in cash on hand but should be able to do better. Bellevue City Councilman Conrad Lee is not looking like he will be a major factor in the race.

Alben, meanwhile, has sharpened his campaigning skills and put about $330,000 in the black as of March 31. But he does not have the field to himself.

Heidi Behrens-Benedict, who lost to Dunn three times, is running. More significantly, popular Seattle radio personality Dave Ross is considering entering the Democratic fray.

Recent Stories

Vilsack says House proposal threatens farm bill coalition

House Legislative Branch spending bill would boost Capitol Police, GAO

Trump’s mini-mes in uniform are waging war on American institutions

Fong elected to fill McCarthy’s seat in California

Key results from primaries in Kentucky, Georgia, Oregon and Idaho

Biden touts veterans care in state he can’t afford to lose