Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Democrat Ethan Berkowitz Officially Enters The Race Against Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young

Special Update: Post updated 8:35 A.M. October 11th, 2007 to reflect new media report showing that Gabrielle LeDoux is now officially challenging Don Young for the Republican nomination for his U.S. House seat. Updates posted in green.

Former House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz (pictured at left) has officially entered the 2008 campaign as the third Democratic candidate to unseat Rep. Don Young. He formally announced his intentions on KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage. KTUU also did an exclusive one-on-one interview with Berkowitz, posted HERE. Story also posted in the Anchorage Daily News. A couple of liberal websites, the Daily Kos and, have already discussed this development.

Berkowitz becomes the third Democrat to challenge Young. The other two are former Alaska Democratic State Party Chairman Jake Metcalfe and former candidate Diane Benson. All three can be considered marquee candidates, with solid name recognition throughout the state.

Click HERE to visit Ethan Berkowitz's official campaign website. Here's a portion of his official press release announcing his candidacy:

"My experience has shown that substance and civility work best", Berkowitz said. "When we reach across party lines we can find common ground and common sense solutions that move us forward and away from partisan politics. That approach worked in Juneau and it will work in Washington D.C."

Berkowitz expressed confidence in the country's ability to rise to the challenges of our time. "We can make America a stronger force for peace and security in the world. We can develop Alaska's energy resources - renewables as well as oil and gas - to make vital contributions to America's energy independence. We can have schools that reach and teach each student as a unique individual. We can expand health care for children and small business. And we can restore trust and high ethical standards in our public servants and our government. We can have leaders who make us proud".

Ethan Berkowitz served in the Alaska State House from 1997-2006, functioning as the Minority Leader for the last eight years of that stretch. Although a principled lawmaker untouched by any hint of scandal, he was always willing to reach across to the other side of the aisle when the public interest demanded it. However, he is still an unapologetic liberal. He has a wife and two kids.

Berkowitz's opponents wasted little time in reacting to the announcement. Jake Metcalfe alluded to Berkowitz's testimony in the recent trial of former House Speaker Pete Kott. "I see myself as someone coming into this that wasn't in the Legislature, that hasn't participated in the trials, hasn't been to Room 604, hasn't testified in this. As someone that's standing outside of it and saying, 'Look, we've got to have a different culture here and a different philosophy about how we get along,'" Metcalfe said.

Diane Benson, the Democratic nominee against Young last year, said she has what she calls crossover appeal. "I think that is really important when people look at who they're going to vote for in a primary. Because, Democrats alone will not carry someone to Congress. You have to be attractive to independents, you have to be attractive to others from other parties," Benson said.

Even Don Young reacted. Young's campaign manager, Steve Dougherty, said that Young views the campaign as a marathon and that he knows only one speed, full speed ahead. Dougherty also said that Young expects a Republican primary contest, following a courtesy call from State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux of Kodiak. It was not disclosed whether or not LeDoux would be the opponent.

Note: The last sentence has been updated. According to a new story in the Anchorage Daily News, State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Kodiak) is officially challenging Don Young now.

The dynamic between Berkowitz, Metcalfe, and Benson will be quite interesting. Diane Benson will probably be strongest in rural areas; she's part Alaska Native and a strong proponent of Native rights. Jake Metcalfe's early political experience took place out in Bethel in Southwest Alaska, so he has some knowledge of rural issues and some name recognition among rural people. His primary strength is with organized labor; it is quite possible he will scarf up the lion's share of labor endorsements.

In contrast, Berkowitz, for the most part, is a strictly urban candidate. Whether he's in it for the distance or not is uncertain; in 2006, he ran for governor, but quickly dropped out when Tony Knowles entered the race. Berkowitz subsequently became Knowles' running mate. If Metcalfe gets into a tough fight against Benson, and Berkowitz is running third, it is not inconceivable that Berkowitz could drop out and throw his support to Metcalfe; he would probably be more comfortable with a mainstream candidate like Metcalfe rather than a more insurgent persona like Benson. Make no mistake about it, though. This does not mean that Benson is a kook; she's a serious, polished candidate. But compared to the other two, she appears to be an insurgent.

Don Young is vulnerable. Here's what I posted back in June 2007 about the findings of a Hays Poll about Don Young:

Public Opinion of Don Young: When subcategories are combined, we find that 40% are favorably disposed towards Don Young, while 41% hold an unfavorable opinion. The benefits of Young's seniority are no longer impressing as many Alaskans as in the past.

18% - Very Positive
22% - Somewhat Positive
15% - Neutral
18% - Somewhat Negative
23% - Very Negative
3% -- Don't Know/Refused

Likelihood of voting for Don Young given recent corruption investigations: The largest plurality are simply unaffected by the investigations and probably dismiss them as merely "politics". However, of those who lean one way or another, 38% are more unlikely to vote for Young, while only 13% are more likely. It is this latter conclusion which is providing grist for the Democrats' propaganda mill, but since Don Young has no family connection with one of the "persons of interest" (Ben Stevens) in the VECO scandal, the similarity of Young's results to those of Ted Stevens probably reflects voter dissatisfaction in other areas.

6% -- Much more likely
7% -- Somewhat more likely
42% - No difference
10% - Somewhat more unlikely
28% - Much more unlikely
6% -- Don't know/refused

Likelihood to vote for Don Young in the next election: This shows that only 42% are favorably disposed towards Young, while 54% are unfavorably disposed. In addition, with 40% "very unlikely", opposition is much more pronounced and passionate than supporter strength. Alaska Democrats could be right about Don Young, if they put up the right opposition in 2008.

20% - Very likely
22% - Somewhat likely
14% - Somewhat unlikely
40% - Very unlikely
4% -- Don't know/refused

Another Hays poll taken on September 17-18, with 401 respondents, showed a deterioration in Don Young's ratings:

11% - Very Positive
22% - Somewhat Positive
18% - Neutral
20% - Somewhat Negative
26% - Very Negative
3% - Don't Know/Refused

So in just three months, Young's "positive" factor dropped from 40% to 33%, while his "negative" factor increased from 41% to 46%.

One question to consider is this: Are there enough differences between Berkowitz and Metcalfe to make it a genuine three-cornered race, or are they similar enough to where they'll fight over the same constituency and hand the Democratic nomination to Diane Benson?

As a Republican, I don't really have a dog in this fight, although I have to consider who I'd be least uncomfortable with if Don Young loses. I'm probably most uncomfortable with Diane Benson, because a number of her positions seem radical. However, I also watched Jake Metcalfe mistreat Teresa Obermeyer at a number of school board meetings. So I guess Ethan Berkowitz would be the Democrat with whom I would be least uncomfortable. Berkowitz does seem to be a more unequivocal supporter of opening up ANWR for exploration and responsible oil development than the other two.

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