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August 28, 2008

Young and the restless

Just 152 votes separate Rep. Don Young and his GOP primary opponent, lieutenant governor Sean Parnell — and there are thousands more uncounted ballots left.

With all but one precinct counted, Young has 42,539 votes to Parnell’s 42,387. Another anti-Young candidate, state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux won 8,628 votes — clearly playing the role of spoiler, if Young indeed hangs on.

This is an ideal situation for House Democrats, as Young looks like he’s in decent position to hold onto the seat despite his vulnerabilities. And this primary may not get resolved for weeks, as Alaska electoral officials count absentee ballots and the loser will probably ask for a recount.

The Democratic nominee, former state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz will now have a head start in both getting his message out and fundraising. But it will be hard for him to fully begin the campaign without knowing his opponent. If Young wins, Berkowitz's campaign will focus on Young's ethical problems  He would have to adopt a different campaign strategy against Parnell, a reform-minded Republican without Young's ethical baggage. 

Alaska election officials estimated there are about 5,000 to 7,000 absentee ballots remaining, and both campaigns will probably be aggressive in contesting each ballot’s validity.

Can you say hanging chads?

Another developing storyline is that Parnell, as lieutenant governor, is the lead official overseeing the state’s election division.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

One wrinkle in this tight race is that Parnell, as lieutenant governor, is the state official in charge of overseeing the Division of Elections. Parnell recused himself from oversight of the primary when he became a candidate and said he has no role in the ballot count.

Mike Anderson, Young's chief of staff who is working on his campaign, said it is a unique situation to have Young's opponent have elections authority.

"We can't go to the lieutenant governor and ask him for advice," he said.