Senate race features party twists

  • By Mark Thiessen
  • Monday, November 7, 2016 10:39pm
  • News

ANCHORAGE — When’s a Republican not a Republican, or a Libertarian for that matter? And could Alaska be turning blue? Here are some things to look for in this year’s general election in Alaska:

You might want to take a scorecard into the voting booth with you to figure out who’s who and who used to be what in the U.S. Senate race.

Here’s the easy one: U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is a Republican, even though some on the far right consider her a RINO, or Republican in name only. No matter, the incumbent first appointed to the seat by her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, in 2002 is representing the Grand Old Party in her re-election bid.

Now it gets tricky.

Ray Metcalfe is the Democratic candidate for Senate. But the party is really doing nothing to advance his candidacy, and that’s fine with him. Metcalfe, a former Republican state lawmaker from Anchorage, bills himself on his website as “Alaska’s anti-corruption candidate, and a Berniecrat.”

Metcalfe has painted the state’s leading Democrat, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, as part of the corrupt elite.

For his part, Begich has endorsed independent candidate Margaret Stock. So have regional Democratic groups in the Interior and southeast Alaska.

Stock, a MacArthur Foundation genius grant winner and Hillary Clinton supporter, could almost be seen as the party’s preferred candidate — except she didn’t run as a Democrat. Notwithstanding, the immigration lawyer had a prime speaking role before this year’s Democratic caucus in Anchorage, and the party unsuccessfully sued the state after it denied a request to allow candidates not affiliated with a political party to run in the Democratic primary.

Now we’re back to the Republicans, sort of. Remember Joe Miller? He upset Murkowski in the 2010 GOP Senate primary, seemingly riding high on a wave of tea party support. Instead of folding her tent, Murkowski mounted a historic write-in campaign to retain her seat. Miller ran again in 2014, losing the Republican primary to Dan Sullivan, who went on to upset Begich.

This year, Miller sat out during the primary. Then Cean Stevens abandoned the general election race, creating a vacuum on the Libertarian ticket. Miller stepped in as the Libertarian candidate for Senate.

That could be seen as good news for the entire Libertarian ticket, right? Maybe not. Miller says if he’s elected, he’ll caucus with Republicans. Oh, and he doesn’t plan to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate. Instead, Miller’s backing Donald Trump.

Johnson’s running mate, Bill Weld, supports Murkowski.

Is seniority important, or does Alaska need a fresh face for the state’s sole U.S. House seat?

That’s the issue facing voters, who will choose between incumbent Rep. Don Young and Democrat Steve Lindbeck.

Young remains popular in Alaska after serving four decades in the House, despite investigations into alleged wrongdoing over the years.

He first won the seat in a 1973 special election when U.S. Rep. Nick Begich was declared dead after disappearing in a plane in southeast Alaska.

Young has since easily dispensed of Democrat after Democrat. His toughest challenge came in the 2008 primary, when Gov. Sarah Palin’s then Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell lost a close primary race, during which Young dubbed his opponent “Captain Zero.”

Young points to 79 bills he passed out of the House. But Lindbeck, a 63-year-old former newspaper reporter, editor and media executive, wonders why Young hasn’t done more for Alaska since Republicans controlled Congress for most of the past 20 years.

Lindbeck says Young’s years of service should be applauded, but the state needs new energy from its representative.

The Supremes’ “Baby Love” topped the charts Nov. 3, 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in a landslide. That was also the last time a Democrat carried Alaska, and the state has been very red since.

Could this be the year it returns to the blue column?

Alaska is traditionally a difficult place to conduct reliable polling, but some in the weeks ahead of the general election have indicated Clinton could be positioned to upset Trump.

Trump came in second to Ted Cruz in Alaska’s Republican presidential preference poll, and both of the state’s GOP U.S. senators called for him to leave the race following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape. However, the state party continues to back Trump.

Clinton has a connection to Alaska that Trump probably can’t, and wouldn’t want, to match. In summer 1969, she worked a slime line, cleaning the entrails out of fish in Valdez.

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