Friday, March 14, 2008

Alaska Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell To Challenge Congressman Don Young For The Republican Nomination

Updated March 14th, 2008 at 10:50 P.M. to add some more media story links.

In an announcement that caught many people, including premier local pollster Dave Dittman by surprise, Alaska's Republican Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell said he will challenge U.S. Rep. Don Young in the Republican primary. Full story in the Anchorage Daily News, as well as on the ADN's Alaska Politics blog. Both sources include numerous public comments so the reader can gauge Alaskan reaction to the announcement, which is generally positive. Parnell's official bio can be found HERE. Story also aired by KTUU Channel 2 and KTVA Channel 11.

Parnell made the announcement to loud cheers today at the Alaska Republican Convention in Anchorage. Young, who has held office since 1973, was in the room but left as Parnell rose to address delegates. Afterwards, Parnell explained his actions. "For too long, we have expected too little from our elected officials," Parnell said. "It is time for change". Parnell also said, "The notion that an elected official gets to pick who his constituents are based on whether they voted for him -- that is wrong". Governor Sarah Palin has endorsed Parnell.

But Congressman Young was quick to fire back. "Sean, congratulations," Young said. "I beat your dad, and I'm going to beat you." Pat Parnell ran as a Democrat against Young in the 1980 general election. Young received 114,089 votes to the elder Parnell's 39,922, according to the Alaska Division of Elections. Young also criticized Parnell for running for Lt. Governor instead of the U.S. House in 2006.

Young is considered vulnerable primarily because he is the subject of a federal investigation that includes his campaign finance practices. Young's re-election campaign last year spent $854,053 on legal fees, but he won't disclose for what that money was used. However, Young has also made a series of public relations gaffes, including an occasion when he refused to answer questions about why his campaign has spent $845,035 on legal fees. Young said only the media, not his constituents, had asked about the fees. Young refused to answer again when a reporter identified himself as a constituent, but one who had not voted for Young. In addition, there was a Mat-Su Valley press conference on February 22nd where he threw out a couple of reporters because they weren't representing local Valley media. A website specifically dedicated to "exposing the real Don Young",, has been on line for several months now.

And this vulnerablility was once again highlighted by the latest Anchorage-based Hays Research Poll, conducted from March 10-12 and documented in another post on the Alaska Politics blog, which showed the following results for Congressman Young:

Don Young
-- Very Favorable: 17%
-- Somewhat Favorable: 23%
-- Somewhat Unfavorable: 20%
-- Very Unfavorable: 35%
-- (Don't Know/Refused): 5%

This is slightly different than previous Hays polls, in which there is no Neutral category this time. But one can easily see the clear-cut unfavorable assessment: 40% view Young favorably, 55% unfavorably. Note the strong negative component; one out of three respondents are Very Unfavorable towards Young; he is clearly in trouble. Here are results from the other Hays polls (all of which included a Neutral category):

April 5th, 2007: 51% Positive, 38% Negative.
June 15th, 2007: 38% Positive, 41% Negative.
September 17th, 2007: 33% Positive, 46% Negative.
November 12th, 2007: 34% Positive, 48% Negative.

However, what many Alaskans, even the media outlets, are neglecting is that Congressman Young already has another Republican challenger in State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Kodiak). So Alaskans who are ready to concede the nomination to Parnell may want to put the champagne back on ice, because there is a chance that LeDoux and Parnell may take as many votes from each other as they would individually from Don Young. A local Kodiak blogger, Kodiak Konfidential, has discussed LeDoux on several occasions. Click HERE to view his posts referencing LeDoux.

And why is this? Because while both LeDoux and Parnell differ economically, with Parnell being more pro-development and pro-business (LeDoux publicly opposes the proposed Pebble Mine), both are considered socially conservative. A now defunct pro-gay lobby, Actwin, gave LeDoux a letter grade of "F" for voting against the gay agenda in the state legislature. But since Parnell is also considered socially conservative, they could end up splitting the "values voters", who previously flexed their political muscle by pushing Mike Huckabee to a second place finish and Mitt Romney to a victory in the February 5th Republican Presidential caucus. So if Parnell and LeDoux take too many votes from each other, Don Young could sneak past both of them and secure the Republican nomination in the primary election.

The bottom line - in a three-way, Don Young could squeak by Sean Parnell, with Gabrielle LeDoux finishing a distant third. But in a straight-up contest between Parnell and Young, Parnell would not only win, but could score as much as 60% of the vote. Consequently, if Republicans are serious about replacing Don Young, they should induce LeDoux to exit the race.

Other candidates in the race include three Democrats; former House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, former state Democratic Party Chairman Jake Metcalfe, and former Young opponent Diane Benson, who received 40 percent of the vote against Young in 2006.

And KTUU Channel 2 also conducted one of their "unscientific" polls to determine Alaskan choices if the election were held today. Here's how the 2,000 respondents voted:

Question: If the election for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives were held today, who would you vote for?

Ethan Berkowitz (D) - 42%
Sean Parnell (R) - 39%
Don Young (R) - 10%
Diane Benson (D) - 4%
Gabrielle LeDoux (R) - 1%
Jake Metcalfe (D) - 1%
None of the above - 3%

Yep, Don Young is in trouble

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