The State of the Election: Pacific
Alaska (3 electoral votes)
The Last Frontier has never seen an election even remotely like this one. The state will undoubtedly back the GOP ticket, which includes Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the vice presidential nominee.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R) will stand for reelection nine days after being convicted on seven felony counts by a Washington, D.C., jury that decided he deliberately did not report gifts worth more than $250,000. His Democratic challenger is Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, son of Alaska Rep. Nick Begich, who was killed in a 1972 plane crash. But Stevens's loyal following keeps the outcome far from certain. If elected to a seventh full term, Stevens, 84, could be expelled by a two-thirds vote of the chamber where he has served continuously longer than any other Republican.
Rep. Don Young (R), meanwhile, approaches his effort for an 18th term as an underdog to Ethan Berkowitz, an Anchorage lawyer who formerly led the Democratic minority in the state House. Young, 75, came from behind to defeat Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in the Aug. 26 primary by 304 votes. Though not charged in any of the federal criminal probes roiling Alaskan politics, Young has reported spending $1.2 million on defense lawyers.
With no gubernatorial or Senate race and Barack Obama heavily favored, the biggest questions facing California voters are House races and ballot measures.
The most competitive of California's 53 U.S. House races is in the state's northeastern corner. Polls give Democrat Charlie Brown a reasonable chance of taking the 4th District, which under the retiring John T. Doolittle had been reliably conservative, against Tom McClintock, a GOP state senator. First-term Democrat Jerry McNerney is a slight favorite in the 11th District over GOP challenger Dean Andal. In the 52nd, where Duncan Hunter is retiring after a failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination, a family succession is likely. Hunter's son, Duncan D. Hunter, a Marine who served in Afghanistan, is expected to defeat a fellow veteran, former Navy SEAL Mike Lumpkin (D).
The most noteworthy ballot measure is Proposition 8, which would eliminate the right to same-sex marriage granted in May by the state Supreme Court when it overturned a 2000 ban. Both sides have drawn heavy funding from outside the state, including from the Mormon Church. Preelection polls showed support for the ban was rising but short of a majority.
Also on the ballot is a measure that would require half of electrical power to be generated from renewable sources by 2025, but opponents, including environmental groups, say the language would actually hamper alternative energy development. Another initiative, Proposition 11, would have a citizen commission publicly draw state legislative districts, which are now drawn by lawmakers. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supports the measure, calling it a lever against the legislature's perennial budget deadlock, but Democrats see a GOP stalking horse.
In Obama's birthplace, there is little doubt that he will carry the day. Voters will also decide whether to convene a new constitutional convention, an option offered every 10 years.
Obama is heavily favored to keep this state blue. In his bid for a third Senate term, Republican incumbent Gordon Smith narrowly trails challenger Jeff Merkley, Democratic speaker of the state House and a self-described "policy guy." Merkley got a late boost from Obama, who made a TV spot for the challenger to counter centrist Smith's efforts to associate himself with Democrats.
A close race is expected between state Sen. Kurt Schrader (D) and businessman Mike Erickson (R) in the contest to replace retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley (D) in the 5th District.
Obama expects to win here without a serious challenge. The governor's race is a repeat of 2004's, with Republican Dino Rossi challenging Democrat Chris Gregoire for the office she won on a third recount. Polls indicate movement toward Gregoire on Obama's long coattails.
Another rematch is in the state's 8th District, where two-term Republican Dave Reichert again faces former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner, who lost narrowly two years ago but was edging ahead in recent polls.