A widening corruption scandal threw a new shadow over Alaska’s powerful Republican political establishment Tuesday, with veteran congressman Don Young fighting to hold onto the seat he has held for 35 years.
With more than half of the primary votes counted, Young was running neck-and-neck with Republican Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who has been endorsed by Gov. Sarah Palin.
But Sen. Ted Stevens, facing a federal indictment over improperly reported income, was winning easily against six Republican challengers, pulling 63% of the vote.
“People said, ‘We’re with you,’ ” Stevens told cheering supporters, raising his fist victoriously in the air, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
Analysts said the toughness of the two races, and the strong challenge Stevens faces in November, raises the possibility that Democrats could take a national foothold in a state that has been a bedrock of Republican politics.
“I think it’s extremely, highly probable, and I’m not a Democratic pollster,” Anchorage pollster Marc Hellenthal said.
Stevens, 84, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, and Young, 75, Alaska’s sole member of the House of Representatives since 1973, have been the subjects of federal ethics investigations. They also face criticism for the back-room politics that have allowed them to steer billions in federal appropriations to Alaska.
The two powerful congressmen argue that Alaskans have benefited from their seniority and political expertise.
Young has not been charged with wrongdoing.
His challenger, Parnell, is seen as having a better shot at holding onto the seat for the GOP in November against Ethan Berkowitz, who leads the Democratic field.
But Tuesday night, Berkowitz expressed confidence that he could beat either Republican in November.
“The undercurrent . . . is that people feel they’re ready for change,” he said in a telephone interview. “The rhetoric they’ve been handed for too long has not helped at all.”
In November, Stevens will face Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who was dominating the Democratic field with 84% of the vote. Most polls have shown Stevens trailing Begich.
The senator faces the additional hurdle of his federal trial next month in Washington, D.C., on charges of failing to report $250,000 in gifts from an oil services industry executive.
Stevens has insisted he did nothing wrong and said he expects to clear his name. Hellenthal said many Alaskans do not take the charges seriously.
“He was indicted for not filling out his disclosures properly,” he said. “That comes across as rinky-dink to a lot of people. OK, he forgot to list some income that he or his wife received, so we should throw him in jail for it? At the state level, it’s not even a misdemeanor.”