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Young in Their Sights

Alaska Congressman Attracting New Foes

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) will likely have serious challenges again in the Republican primary and the general election in 2010.

Many people questioned whether the 18-term Republican would even run again after his wife died in August. But Young has insisted publicly and through aides that he intends to run for another term.

“He has every intention of running and every intention of winning,— said Young’s chief of staff, Pamela Day.

Young barely escaped defeat in 2008, when he beat his primary challenger by 304 votes and upset his general election opponent in a targeted race. And this cycle, businessman Andrew Halcro is expected to announce at a breakfast on Sept. 10 that he will challenge Young in the GOP primary.

“I’m about 95 percent of the way there,— Halcro said Friday. “I’ve had some good conversations this week. I take the run seriously.—

Halcro runs a popular blog critical of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and until recently hosted his own conservative radio show. He ran against Palin as an Independent in 2006 and garnered 9.5 percent of the vote.

Halcro said now-Gov. Sean Parnell’s (R) challenge to Young in 2008 failed because his campaign “lacked a lot of substance.— Despite backing from the Club for Growth and Palin, Parnell, who was then Palin’s lieutenant governor, lost to Young by small margin.

Although many national Republicans perceived Young to be at his weakest point last year in the primary, Halcro pointed out that he has lost his ranking member spot on the House Natural Resources Committee since his re-election in November.

“My problem with Don is that, at age 76, he’s been stripped of his committee chairmanships,— Halcro said. “So basically, he’s an 18-term freshman.—

According to one Republican operative in the state, Halcro’s seniority argument could make sense to many Alaska voters. “It’s going to be pretty difficult because Don Young’s argument about his seniority isn’t really valid because he hasn’t been in a leadership role in the last year and a half,— the operative said.

Still, the Republican was hesitant to discount Young’s prospects for re-election, saying the Congressman proved his mettle in his last race against Parnell, adding that Halcro often “came across as whiny and defensive— in his gubernatorial bid.

What’s more, Young could have the law on his side this time.

David Dittman, an Anchorage-based Republican pollster who has counted former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) as clients, said the ethical cloud surrounding Young has faded because several other state politicians under investigation have either been acquitted or have had charges against them dropped recently. Stevens’ conviction in a corruption case was overturned a few months after he lost re-election to now-Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

“I think it tends to lift a cloud over Don as well,— Dittman said.

But that doesn’t mean that Young doesn’t have opposition in the state anymore.

Dittman, for one, no longer supports Young because the Congressman supports the Employee Free Choice Act. Alaska has one of the highest percentages of union households in the country because of the larger number of federal employee and industrial workers all over the state.

“I’m personally disappointed in Don,— Dittman said.

And if Young defeats his likely primary challenger, Democrats are hoping state Rep. Harry Crawford (D) can defeat him in the general election. Crawford announced his candidacy for the seat at the end of August.

Some Alaska Democrats are optimistic about Crawford because he presents a different candidate profile than former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz (D), who lost to Young by a 5-point margin in November.

David Shurtleff, an Alaska political strategist who worked for Berkowitz, described Crawford as an “old-school, blue-collar Democrat.—

“He can go toe to toe with Don Young in terms of that backwoods, gritty, one-liner charm,— Shurtleff said.

According to one Alaskan Democratic official, Berkowitz had trouble shaking his image as an attorney. Crawford, on the other hand, is known for his folksy demeanor and often references his time as an iron worker on the Trans-Alaska pipeline.

“Ethan didn’t have that, quite honestly,— an Alaskan Democratic official said. “A lot of times races in Alaska are about who is more Alaskan.’ … Ethan has never been able to shake that outsider, young attorney from San Francisco image.—

Many Alaskan political observers know Crawford because he defeated former state Speaker Ramona Barnes (R) to win his solidly GOP state House district in 2000.

“He’s not the most articulate guy in the world,— one Democratic official said. “He’s just a relentless campaigner.—

In a phone interview, Crawford described himself as a “retail politician— who contacts his constituency in an “upfront and personal— manner.

“I can bring a perspective to Congress that Don Young hasn’t been bringing,— Crawford said. “I think I connect with people here in Alaska. People in my district consider me their friend, not just their Representative. And that’s what I take to the people of Alaska.—

Shurtleff believes that turnout will be different in the midterm election, which could also boost Crawford’s chances.

President Barack Obama declared victory in the White House contest by late afternoon in Alaska on Election Day in 2008, plus many local voters wanted to show support of Palin’s bid for vice president. Both of those factors, Shurtleff said, failed to push Berkowitz over the finish line in 2008.

While Democrats are not expected to win seats in 2010 across the country, they could do better in Alaska without Palin on the ticket, some party strategists believe.

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