By Ben Pershing
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Alaska Republicans delivered a split verdict on two of the state's scandal-plagued political leaders Tuesday, propelling Sen. Ted Stevens to an easy primary victory despite his upcoming corruption trial but virtually deadlocking in Rep. Don Young's contest against a reformist challenger.
Stevens took 64 percent of the vote against six opponents, two of whom spent significant sums of money on the race, despite being under indictment for allegedly failing to report gifts and favors he received from the oil services company Veco and its executives. Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican and an icon in the state, will square off in November against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D), who led by double digits in recent polls.
In the primary for the state's lone House seat, Young led Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell by just 145 votes, or 0.16 percent, with 98 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday. "Just looking at those numbers, it's way too early to call the race," said Parnell campaign spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton.
Alaska election law does not provide for an automatic recount except in an exact tie, but it does allow the loser of a contest to request one. It may be three weeks before the process even reaches that point, however.
"We're not going to finish counting absentee and [provisional] ballots until September 5th," said Gail Fenumiai, director of the state Division of Elections. "We have thousands of absentee ballots to be counted."
Once the counting is finished, she said, a state board will spend seven to 10 days reviewing the results, a step that is part of every contest, regardless of the margin. The results will be officially certified by Sept. 16 or 17. Only then can the loser request a full recount, which would take at least a few days to complete.
The winner of the Young-Parnell contest will face former state representative Ethan Berkowitz, who easily defeated 2006 candidate Diane Benson in the Democratic primary. Based on recent polling, national Republicans are privately gloomy about Young's general-election prospects and believe that Parnell has a better chance to hold the seat.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made the same calculation. It tried late in the race to hurt the challenger's primary campaign by sending out a mailer attacking the "big-taxing" Parnell.
Young, 75, who has served in the House for 35 years, faces multiple investigations. Some are related to a wide-ranging federal corruption probe in the state and another is over a controversial legislative earmark he sponsored to benefit a Florida developer. He has spent more than $1.2 million in campaign contributions on lawyers, and more from a separate legal defense fund.
Parnell entered the GOP primary in March with the encouragement of Gov. Sarah Palin, who has sought to clean up corruption in the state Republican Party. Along with political help from Palin, Parnell has received several hundred thousand dollars from the Club for Growth, a fiscal conservative group.
While the two GOP candidates battled to a draw, Berkowitz worked to fortify his position for the general-election contest. He had raised $705,000 as of Aug. 6, and the DCCC has already reserved several hundred thousand dollars in advertising time to aid his campaign.
Stevens, 84, had the easier political challenge Tuesday, but he faces a more difficult legal situation. The longtime senator was indicted last month in the wide-ranging FBI probe of corruption in Alaska politics that has already resulted in several convictions. He is accused of accepting more than $250,000 in gifts from former Veco executive Bill Allen Jr., who has pleaded guilty to bribery, extortion and other charges.
Stevens has proclaimed his innocence and demanded a speedy trial to clear his name before the election. He is scheduled to go on trial in a District federal court Sept. 22, meaning he will be out of the state -- but in the news, unflatteringly -- at the height of the general-election campaign.
Stevens expressed confidence Tuesday night that he could prevail. "Alaskans trust me," he said, according to the Associated Press. "This is still a Republican state."