Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Congressman Don Young Kicks Ass, Ethan Berkowitz And Diane Benson Parry To A Civilized Draw During KTUU Channel 2 Congressional Candidate Debate

On August 4th, 2008, KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage hosted a one-hour debate between Alaska's U.S. House candidates from 9:00 P.M. until 10:00 P.M. Story aired by KTUU Channel 2. There's also a good written recap posted on the Anchorage Daily News' Alaska Politics blog. Since this was first posted, Andrew Halcro and the Anchorage Press have also added their respective analyses, which don't differ significantly from mine.

In addition, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner live-blogged the debate, in the following chronological order:

- Benson vs. Berkowitz
- Young's legal fees, 9:59 p.m.
- Candidates on troop withdrawal, 10:01 p.m.
- Candidates on federal deficit, 10:03 p.m.
- Debate winding down, 10:21 p.m.

KTUU news video embedded below:

The first 30 minutes were allocated to the two Democrats, Ethan Berkowitz and Diane Benson. This was one of the most civilized and courtly debates I've seen. Both candidates obviously have considerable personal respect for one another. Diane Benson questioned Ethan Berkowitz on his previous acceptance of campaign contributions from VECO, but Berkowitz easily parried the thrust by recalling that he had stopped taking contributions from VECO in 2000, long before the scandals surfaced.

Berkowitz then asked Benson if she had any regrets about running for governor on the Green Party ticket in 2002, implying that she might have taken enough votes from Democrat Fran Ulmer to hand Frank Murkowski the election. Benson just as handily parried that thrust, pointing out that her percentage of votes was much smaller than Murkowski's victory margin, and asserting that she was proud to be representing the Green Party at that time. Berkowitz then ably cited and demonstrated his greater political experience. But both candidates came across quite well, although I think Berkowitz is the better-experienced of the two. Nevertheless, Diane Benson's no slouch. I called it a categorical draw.

The Republican debate was quite different. Don Young was never more ready for prime time than he was there. He readily handled Gabrielle LeDoux, whose sincerity and knowledge were apparent at times, but whose delivery skills simply were outmatched by the wily veteran. But Don Young quite literally owned Sean Parnell. Young quickly took command of the debate, addressing the issue of using campaign contributions to pay the legal fees attendant to the investigation against him. He was absolutely unapologetic about it, stating that he didn't have the personal funds to compete with the investigators. He also steadfastly refused to disclose just what it is he's been investigated for, citing confidentiality requirements. Young also boldly defended earmarks, explaining that one of the reasons is that the requestors frequently cannot get the desired assistance from the state government.

In contrast, Sean Parnell came across like a shell-shocked Katrina refugee stumbling around the inside of a darkened, fetid Superdome. When asked what earmarks he took issue with, he stumbled and fumbled around, instead regurgitating a stock answer. Several time he merely repeated how he had balanced the budget while in the State Senate. Don Young hammered him for taking $115,000 from the Club for Growth, although Parnell supposedly doesn't take money from PACs; Parnell's response was that the contributions came from individuals who belong to Club for Growth. Even Gabrielle LeDoux took a whack at him, asking him about his support for AGIA and the TransCanada proposal. LeDoux effectively followed up by reminding the audience that she had proudly voted against the TransCanada proposal. Bottom line - Don Young came out smelling like a Congressman.

Don Young's performance at this debate undoubtedly will stop his steady decline in the polls. He put on a virtuoso performance. The question is - did he recover too late. The August 26th primary is only two weeks away. Polls consistently show Don Young within striking distance of Sean Parnell (who's been leading him by 3-5 points), but Gabrielle LeDoux has been advertising aggressively and she's starting to make a move. LeDoux is no longer the fifth wheel in the race. But will she take more votes from Parnell or from Young?

My guess is that as a result of Parnell's lackluster performance, she might take more votes from Parnell. I was torn between Parnell and Young until the debate; but Don Young's self-confidence showed me he's still capable of serving Alaska. I am now seriously leaning towards Don Young on primary day.

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