When Sen. Frank Murkowski (R) decided to go home and run for the governorship being vacated by term-limited Tony Knowles (D), almost everyone assumed it was his for the asking. Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 3-2 ratio and Murkowski was better known than his opponent, Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer (D). But while he struggled in Congress to free the energy bill and find support for an Alaska gas pipeline project -- without success -- she has been working the cities and villages, arguing that the state needs a new tax system to replace its dependence on oil royalties. She could win, but a late infusion of money and Murkowski's presence in the state help his chances. Two years are left of his term, so if he is successful, he could appoint a successor.
After 34 years in office, Sen. Ted Stevens (R) is almost as much part of the Alaskan landscape as Mount McKinley. Attorney Frank Vondersaar (D) and three minor-party opponents won't change that.
The battle for the governorship of the No. 1 state has turned into the opposite of a Miss Congeniality contest. Gov. Gray Davis (D) and challenger Bill Simon Jr. (R) are demonstrably the two least popular political aspirants in the state, making the operative question which one turns off voters most. The answer in most observers' judgment is Simon, and most polls point to a Davis win by at least a few points. Simon's camp released a survey at the end of the week suggesting he was slightly ahead or breathing down Davis's neck. That was viewed skeptically, but the fact that no poll shows the governor with anything close to 50 percent means that an upset is possible. Green Party candidate Peter Camejo offers a refuge for some voters and many observers expect that thousands of others will skip the gubernatorial line and vote on initiatives and down-ballot candidates that are more to their liking.
A bipartisan redistricting deal took virtually all 53 House races out of contention. The notable exception is in the Central Valley district where scandal-scarred Rep. Gary A. Condit (D) lost the primary to Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza (D). Late polling by the national party raised alarms and sent Democrats scurrying to try to avoid an upset by state Sen. Dick Monteith (R). Cardoza is a slight favorite, but it could be a squeaker.
The redistricting deal eliminated one Republican, Rep. Steve Horn (R), and created a safe district for Devin Nunes (R), a former state agriculture department official, facing David LaPere (D). In the other new district, Linda Sanchez (D), sister of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D), is a solid favorite over Tim Escobar (R).
The long-dominant Democratic Party showed signs of severe stress as Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano's (D) second and final term came to an end. A dreadful economy, scandals and a sudden withdrawal by his successor candidate left Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono (D) a decided underdog to former Maui Mayor Linda Lingle (R), who lost by only 6,000 votes to Cayetano four years ago. Lingle is still a possible winner, but an all-out effort by organized labor has put Hirono back in the race. Late polling shows them tied.
Rep. Patsy Mink (D) died of pneumonia on Sept. 28, but her name remains on the ballot against state Rep. Bob McDermott (R). Her husband, John Mink (D), will be the among the 38 candidates in a special election on Nov. 30, and Democrats are hoping that the voters will keep it in the family.
Three late polls all show former state Supreme Court justice Ted Kulongoski (D) leading former state Rep. Kevin Mannix (R) by roughly 6 percentage points to succeed term-limited Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), but Republicans still sense a chance for an upset. Mannix was the conservative choice in a three-way primary and has benefited from his opposition to higher taxes to solve a severe budget crisis. Still, Oregon prefers moderate politicians, and Kulongoski is closer to that model.
Sen. Gordon Smith (R) has a much wider lead over Secretary of State Bill Bradbury (D), who never attracted enough financial support to threaten Smith's bid for a second term. Bradbury has had multiple sclerosis for years and it did not become an issue in the campaign.
With no Senate or governor's race, the action -- such as it is -- centers on warring transportation initiatives, which would raise or lower vehicle taxes.