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WEST: Nepotism Issue Continues to Dog Murkowski as Ex-Gov. Knowles Tries to Deny Her a Full Term

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 waged in the Last Frontier.

Murkowski had banked about $1.2 million as of Aug. 4 while former Gov. Tony Knowles (D) had about $820,000 cash on hand.

Murkowski is closing in on having raised $4 million for the cycle while Knowles has raked in more than $3 million since declaring his candidacy last year.

As they fight for control of the Senate, Democrats hope the former two-term governor can deliver the seat formerly held by now-Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) into their column.

The race has been within the margin of error in most independent polls.

Lisa Murkowski has been dogged by the nepotism issue ever since her father became governor and appointed her to take his place in the Senate.

She is also hamstrung by her father’s continued low standing in the polls. His approval ratings plummeted as he has fought with the Republican-controlled Legislature in Juneau and proposed cutting benefits that Alaskans consider sacred.

Those factors, coupled with the state GOP chairman’s ethical woes, resulted in Murkowski having to fend off two intra-party challengers in the Aug. 24 primary.

While many thought that battle would scar Murkowski, it seems as if her victory validated her candidacy and allows her to go into November with at least the primary triumph under her belt.

Another challenge awaits her on the November ballot: a voter-driven initiative to change the way Senate vacancies are filled.

The GOP-controlled Legislature tried to spare Murkowski the indignity of having to share billing with a measure that questions how she became the incumbent in the first place, but the Alaska Supreme Court ruled the changes approved in Juneau were too different from a voter petition on Senate vacancies and allowed the initiative to come to the ballot anyway. The measure, if approved, would call for a special election to fill a vacant Senate seat, taking the appointment away from the governor.

While President Bush is expected to give Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as hefty a drubbing as he gave Al Gore in 2000, Knowles could pull enough disgruntled Republican votes away from Murkowski to eke out a win — even as the GOP tries to tether him to Kerry and other national Democrats. One other potential stumbling block for Knowles: the presence of Green Party candidate Jim Sykes on the ballot. Sykes took 7 percent of the vote in the 2002 Senate election — more than enough to tip the results in the Republican’s favor this time if the race is as close as expected.

One big unknown for both campaigns is the significance of the native Alaskan vote.

Americans Indians comprise 15 percent of Alaska’s population and if they vote en masse, they could be a deciding factor.

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

The powerful Transportation and Infrastructure chairman is expected to route liberal activist and 2002 Senate candidate Thomas Higgins (D) in the race for Alaska’s only House seat.

Young also faces challengers from the Green and Libertarian parties.

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

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proved that Republicans can still win statewide in California — moderate Republicans who are international superstars, at least.

But the GOP Senate nominee, former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, is no Schwarzenegger. He is a dogged, low-key, conservative, a farmer and rancher from outside Fresno whose politics may simply be too far to the right for this Democratic state.

Jones, who is personally wealthy, has hinted that he may put up to $2 million of his own money into the campaign. But that barely buys a week’s worth of advertising in the Golden State, and his fundraising has not been terrific to date, despite some help from Schwarzenegger, Vice President Cheney and other GOP luminaries.

Boxer, though probably more liberal than most of her constituents, is a tough campaigner and energetic fundraiser who has successfully tied Jones to conservative national Republicans who are unpopular in California. And she has been very savvy about keeping her supporters energized. Unless something dramatic happens in the next few weeks, she should win easily.

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

Democrats at one point thought they had a glimmer of hope in this Sacramento-area district.

The Republican primary was nasty, and the winner, former state Attorney General Dan Lungren, emerged with less than 39 percent of the vote — and broke.

But the Democratic candidate, financial adviser Gabe Castillo, has proved to be more of a political neophyte than Democrats thought, and his fundraising has been anemic. He had less than $18,000 in the bank on June 30. Meanwhile, Republicans appear to have set aside old grievances and have unified behind Lungren, who represented a Long Beach-area district from 1978 to 1988. He should win a comfortable victory.

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

The race between two respected state lawmakers, former state Sen. Jim Costa (D) and current state Sen. Roy Ashburn (R), has just started to heat up — fueled in part by a recent $206,000 ad buy by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Costa won a very nasty primary over Dooley’s former top aide, Lisa Quigley. But while Quigley raised all kinds of embarrassing questions about Costa’s past behavior — he was arrested in the 1980s for soliciting a prostitute and police found drug paraphernalia in his home in the 1990s — Republicans have yet to use it against him.

That could change: While they acknowledge that Costa is the favorite given the district’s demographics, national Republicans may choose to dump even more money into this Central Valley district because it is the only California House race that is even remotely competitive. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Vice President Cheney and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) have helped Ashburn raise money so far.

Through June 30, Ashburn had $376,000 in the bank; Costa, who spent more than $850,000 on the primary, had $278,000.

The district favors Democrats, but Republicans hold out hope that they can steal this one. Both Costa and Ashburn are well-respected Sacramento insiders. It remains to be seen what their reputations will be like when the campaign is over.

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

Former state Rep. Cam Cavasso (R) will play sacrificial lamb for his party as he tries to deny Inouye, a Hawaiian legend and World War II hero, an eighth term.

Las Vegas lounge singer and former teen actor Brian Evans tried to dislodge the entrenched Senator during the Democratic primary by running to Inouye’s left, to no avail.

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

Case faces Honolulu City Councilman Mike Gabbard (R) but Gabbard will be hard-pressed to stop Case’s return to Washington, D.C. The district went 56 percent for Al Gore in 2000 and must be considered safe for Democrats.

An August poll conducted on behalf of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and KITV-4 News showed Case leading Gabbard 67 percent to 18 percent.

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

Senate Republicans must view Nevada as their biggest missed opportunity this cycle as no top-tier candidate was willing to battle Reid, who only won re-election in 1998 by 428 votes.

Anti-gay activist Richard Ziser won a battle of the unknowns to become Reid’s Republican challenger after several state officeholders and Rep. Jim Gibbons (R) all took a pass.

Reid is sitting on one of the most coveted war chests this cycle and, proving how unworried he is about Ziser, he recently committed $1 million of it to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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

Republican leaders are sufficiently worried about the threat former gaming honcho Tom Gallagher (D) poses to the freshman Porter that they are not taking anything for granted.

The former Park Place Entertainment chief executive has raised an impressive amount of money in a short amount of time — more than $1 million in six months.

Porter was prepared to be a top Democratic target however, and has raised close to $2 million for the cycle.

The newly created suburban Las Vegas district is one of the most competitive in the country with Democrats slightly out-numbering Republicans in this boom area that sees a new influx of people daily.

Recent polls show Gallagher within striking distance but Porter’s formidable war chest and personal affability still make this a challenging takeover opportunity for Democrats.

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

Republican Al King and candidates on the Green, Libertarian and Constitution Party tickets are all 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 are hopeful that Iranian-born Goli Ameri can give the Chinese-American Wu a run for his money.

Ameri, a telecommunications consulting firm owner, decisively won a tough primary battle with another wealthy businessowner to earn the right to challenge Wu in this competitive district in the northwestern corner of Oregon, which includes downtown Portland.

Democrats have a slight voter registration advantage and have held the seat since 1975.

Wu has inoculated himself with a war chest that had almost $1.6 million as of June 30.

Ameri had to spend heavily to win her May primary but managed to bank $440,000 six weeks later.

Despite Republican hopes, it seems the scariest proposition Wu faced this cycle was the bungee jump he took off a bridge in a recent campaign ad.

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

Republicans have looked to this Salem-based district with longing before, noting the small voter-registration advantage the GOP enjoys there.

They had two top-flight challengers chomping at the bit to take on Hooley but it is unclear if the winner of the GOP primary, Lake Oswego attorney Jim Zupancic, was the best fit.

He beat state Sen. Jackie Winters (R) in a contentious primary but some Republicans, at least privately, wonder if Winters, who is black, had the better profile for the district.

Zupancic, who unsuccessfully ran for the state House in 2002, has proved himself a prolific fundraiser and could still give Hooley a close call.

He has raised more than $1 million while Hooley was sitting on $1.3 million as of June 30.

Republican leaders continue to view this seat as a prime pickup opportunity.

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

“Giant killer” Rep. George Nethercutt (R) — so named for his defeat a decade ago of then-Speaker Tom Foley (D) — has been leading a valiant effort to unseat Murray, but just a few weeks before Election Day it looks as though he will fall short.

Nethecutt has raised a lot of money, enjoyed high-profile visits from top Republicans, including President Bush, and ridden high on some good publicity. But most independent polls still show him trailing Murray by double digits.

He also trails Murray in the money chase.

As of Aug. 25, Murray still had more than $4 million in the bank while Nethercutt had about $2.6 million.

Besides having to compete with Murray’s fundraising machine — skills she honed as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last cycle — he has had to overcome low name identification in the more populous western part of the state that is Murray’s base.

They have traded barbs almost daily about one another’s records and even gotten into a fight over where Nethercutt calls home. But Murray has the power of incumbency on her side and has been more than happy to announce pet projects headed the Evergreen State’s way thanks to her seat on the Appropriations Committee.

Unless the dynamics of the race change quickly, Murray is likely to win a third term.

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

Larsen will always have to be careful, considering how competitive his district is, but he appears headed to easy re-election and may become one of those incumbents in shaky districts who grows stronger every cycle.

Republicans got a scare when it seemed their preferred nominee, Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair, was not going to survive the Sept. 14 primary. But after all ballots were counted, including absentee, she won by almost 2,000 votes.

Despite holding local office, she has been unable to demonstrate the ability to raise money in this northern Puget Sound district.

Larsen had about $700,000 in the bank as of Aug. 25 while Sinclair had only $8,000.

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

Democrats are excited about this race, which is shaping up to be competitive, but the numbers still favor the GOP.

State Rep. Cathy McMorris scored a decisive win in a tough, three-way primary Sept. 14 to become the GOP standard-bearer in this open-seat race.

Former hotel magnate Don Barbieri (D) had the luxury of facing no primary opposition and has been stockpiling money for November.

As of Aug. 25 he had about $500,000 in the bank while McMorris was down to about $84,000, thanks to her costly primary. But McMorris has the generous Club for Growth on her side and both party committees have shown a willingness to commit resources to this Spokane-based race.

Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee began running ads immediately after the primary.

Early Republican polls show McMorris in the lead but Barbieri just might have the winning profile a Democrat needs in this vast, Eastern Washington district.

President Bush won the district by 19 points in 2000 but Foley represented the area for three decades before Nethercutt knocked him off in the Republican sweep of 1994.

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

The race to succeed Dunn has been one of the more exciting campaigns to watch with an entrenched incumbent throwing things wide open and a state party boss heaving his frontrunner overboard in the wake of a popular sheriff’s decision to jump into the fray.

Dunn stunned everyone when she decided to step down in January. The suburban Seattle district is as swing as swing districts get but as long as the moderate Dunn was on the ballot, the seat was safely in GOP hands.

Not so without her, and initially the Democrats had the upper hand as their candidate in the race against Dunn, former RealNetworks executive Alex Alben, was suddenly the only person running.

Then King County Sheriff Dave Reichert — famous for catching Green River serial killer Gary Ridgway — declared his allegiance to the GOP and entered the race.

That prompted state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt to coax popular Seattle radio talk show host Dave Ross to run, despite Alben’s presence.

The state’s late and new primary system left people guessing and theorizing what it would mean but in the end name ID won and Reichert emerged from a four-way primary, and Ross bested Alben and one other candidate to become their respective parties’ standard-bearers.

Both Congressional campaign committees are keeping a keen eye on this race and when Republicans announced days after the primary that Reichert was in the lead Democrats immediately countered with their own poll showing the reverse to be true.

Neither candidate proved to be effective fundraisers during their primaries but with few true tossups out there, both candidates can count on an influx of cash from the national parties.

— Nicole Duran and Josh Kurtz

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