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Alaska Election Update: Gov. Parnell Falls Behind and Don Young Wonders About “Ocean Assification”

Don Young claimed he had never heard of “ocean assification”

So much money is being spent on radio and television political ads in Alaska, especially in the U.S. Senate race, that some TV programs are starting five minutes behind, so the stations can rake in as much dough as possible.  Both Sen. Mark Begich, and his GOP opponent, former Alaska Attorney General and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, are right around the $10,000,000.00 mark.*  But PAC’s and SuperPAC’s are spending millions more on this important race. This spending level is entirely unprecedented in Alaska – for any race.

Sen. Begich was leading by as much as 10 or more points, up to the late August primary.  Since then, PAC and SuperPAC spending on behalf of Sullivan skyrocketed, and he has pulled slightly ahead in most polls. is calling this race too close to call:

 Begich started out 2014 as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents. But he has run a smart campaign, while Republican nominee Dan Sullivan slogged through a tough primary and suffered some gaffes. Early polls show Begich up, but Alaska polling is notoriously inaccurate. We likely won’t have a good indication who will win this race until the morning after Election Day.

Wednesday night Begich and Sullivan faced off in the fishing community of Kodiak in a combination question-and-answer session from fisheries journalists, and debate.  In the only other important debate so far, in Anchorage last month, Sullivan was clearly bested by Begich.  In the Kodiak event, Sullivan seemed to be better prepared, but he was facing a hostile audience on issues he clearly knows little about, and doesn’t seem to care much about either:

In the two candidates’ first joint public appearance in more than a month, Sullivan, a former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner, faced probing questions from Begich and a panel of fisheries journalists on his position on the controversial Pebble mine project in Southwest Alaska, as well as on the potential for oil and gas extraction from the same area, which one panelist referred to as the nation’s “fish basket.”

Sullivan had initially said he’d miss the debate but changed his mind and appeared before the crowd of 150 in a high school auditorium after spending two days in Kodiak — one on the stump with Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski — focused on the fishing industry.

It’s an area where Sullivan has admitted lacking professional knowledge, setting up a tough showdown with Begich, who arrived Wednesday evening with a gold salmon pin on his blazer. Begich has chaired a key fisheries committee in the U.S. Senate for the last three years, and owns a long voting record that leaves fewer unknowns.

That made for a tough audience for Sullivan, too, in a port city of about 6,500 people that produced an estimated $400 million in seafood in 2011, which ranks it among the top commercial fishing ports nationwide.

In the past, Sullivan has made statements in favor of developing the gigantic Pebble Mine at the headwaters of the world’s richest salmon habitat.  He tried to come off as neutral on the project Wednesday.  The audience seemed skeptical. When it came to skepticism, Sullivan once again identified himself as a climate change skeptic:

Climate change was another issue in which the two candidates clashed. When Begich asked Sullivan for his specific views, he acknowledged climate change is occurring but said he believes the science is still out on the causes.

Sullivan also said he wouldn’t favor one-size-fits-all solutions to climate change. Those, he says, are ones the Obama administration tends to favor.

Sullivan is widely viewed as an “Outsider,” someone too new to Alaska to really understand our uniqueness.  But the huge edge the GOP has over Democrats in Alaska is tough to overcome.  Begich barely beat Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008, even though Stevens had been convicted of seven Federal felonies a week before the election.

There will be six more October debates and candidate forums, most in the two weeks leading up to the election.

Although Rep. Don Young is polling far ahead of his young Democratic Party challenger, Forrest Dunbar, he made a typical Don Young-esque gaffe in the Wednesday fishery forum in Kodiak.  He claimed he had never heard of “ocean assification” when the subject of ocean acidification came up.  So far, news agencies haven’t commented on his latest Archie Bunker moment.

The most interesting development in this upcoming election is the rapid eclipse of Gov. Sean Parnell in the face of both the Democratic-Independent “Unity Ticket,” and in the unfolding scandal surrounding the four-year coverup of sexual assault, sexual harassment and abysmal morale in the Alaska National Guard.

Parnell is falling further behind in all credible polls, and is ahead in none.  Additionally, several first rank Alaska reporters have honed in on this very sinister story, and Parnell’s clear lack of veracity.  Last April, as the scope of the scandal began to widen, Alaska Public Radio reporter, Lori Townsend, interviewed Parnell.  One can clearly discern how vexed she is by his vague and evasive answers.

Wednesday a major investigate newspaper story by two of Alaska’s best investigative reporters came out in the Alaska Dispatch.  Written jointly by Jill Burke and Richard Mauer, it is a detailed recounting of the unfolding of this coverup and its widening consequences:

As the Alaska National Guard sexual misconduct and leadership scandal evolves into a major issue in his re-election bid, Gov. Sean Parnell is confronting two key questions: When did he learn about problems in the guard, and did he respond effectively?

The record shows that Parnell took nearly his entire four-year term to remove officials at the top of the guard and its related civilian department.

I predict this scandal will only widen the gap between Parnell and the Unity Ticket, and Alaska will be seeing its first non-GOP governor in 12 years.

In state legislative contests, the Democrats have a chance to pick up at least two House seats and one Senate seat, but that won’t be enough to change legislative leadership, unless the new governor has the clout to push for coalition building across party lines.

The well funded opposition to the marijuana legalization initiative is making headway, and the pro-legalization measure has lost all its early lead in polls.

And in one more story involving an Alaska politician, I checked this afternoon, and verified that, in spite of reports, Sarah Palin did not tweet “My heart goes out to the people of Ebola.”

* This writer has contributed multiple times to the Begich for US Senate campaign.

Photo via wikimedia commons, public domain

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Alaska progressive activist, notorious composer and firedoglake devotee.