Alaskans Vote Today in Pivotal Republican Primaries

Sen. Ted Stevens, the chamber's longest-serving Republican, is scheduled to go on trial Sept. 22.
Sen. Ted Stevens, the chamber's longest-serving Republican, is scheduled to go on trial Sept. 22. (Al Grillo - AP)
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By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DENVER, Aug. 25 -- Alaska's Republican voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether a pair of GOP incumbents with a combined 75 years in Congress should continue to be the dominant figures in state politics as they battle criminal investigations.

Sen. Ted Stevens, who was indicted last month on charges of failing to disclose favors from a wealthy supporter, and Rep. Don Young, who is facing multiple ethics investigations, face younger Republicans who contend that it's time for Alaska to move beyond the scandals that have plagued the state.

Vic Vickers, 59, a wealthy lawyer and banker who recently moved to Alaska, has poured almost $500,000 of his own money into a long-shot bid to knock off Stevens, 84, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history. Alaska Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell is the leading candidate trying to defeat Young, who was first elected in 1973, in a race that Republican strategists say is going down to the wire.

Democrats who gathered here for their presidential nominating convention said the issue of Alaskan corruption will remain a prominent part of their effort to claim congressional seats in a state that hasn't sent a Democrat to Capitol Hill since the Carter administration.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said former state House minority leader Ethan Berkowitz would make corruption a main theme whether Young or Parnell wins. Van Hollen argued that the investigation into GOP lawmakers' ties to Veco, a now-defunct Alaska oil services company, has shown a need to sweep Republicans out of office. "You don't need just another Republican substitute [for Young and Stevens], you need a whole new change," Van Hollen said.

GOP insiders, who declined to speak on the record about a party primary, acknowledged that Parnell would be the better candidate in the general election and would easily rebut a corruption campaign. "It's going to be very difficult for the Democrats to run on corruption if Sean Parnell wins on an anti-corruption platform," a Republican strategist said.

The Stevens race presents Republicans with the most delicate problem. Charged with failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts from former Veco chief executive Bill Allen Jr., Stevens is slated to go on trial Sept. 22. If he wins Tuesday's primary, Stevens would face a tough general-election battle against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) but would have to spend most of the final days of the campaign in a D.C. federal court. Prosecutors and defense attorneys have said they expect the case to take at least four weeks before it goes to a jury.

Marc Elias, a Democratic election lawyer, said Republicans would have until mid-September under Alaska law to replace Stevens on the ballot if he wins the primary. Otherwise, they face the prospect of having a convicted felon on the ballot Nov. 4.

Stevens, who has given no indication he would step aside, has maintained his innocence and asked for a speedy trial in an effort to clear his name before Election Day.

Young has spent more than $1.2 million in campaign funds on legal bills related to several investigations. A Veco executive who pleaded guilty to bribing state officials testified at the trial of a former state House member that part of his job was to arrange annual fundraisers for Young. This year, the House and Senate approved an unprecedented resolution asking the Justice Department to investigate a $10 million earmark that Young inserted into a 2005 highway funding bill.

Young has said that he always acted properly.

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