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September 11, 2008

Young isn't riding Palin's coattails

The excitement that Sarah Palin is generating in Alaska for the Republican presidential ticket isn’t translating down to the state’s ethically-embattled GOP House nominee.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) is trailing his Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, 54 to 37 percent, according to an independent poll conducted during the Republican National Convention by nonpartisan Alaska pollster Ivan Moore.

Young actually lost ground from his standing in August, when he trailed Berkowitz by only a 10-pont margin, 51 to 41 percent, in Moore’s poll.

That’s a major contrast with Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), whose 40-year career in the Senate appeared on life support after he was indicted in July. But Stevens, who had been trailing Democrat Mark Begich in polls, received a significant boost since the Palin pick.

Some have cited the two polls to show that Palin’s influence only goes so far, but I’d argue that the differing poll numbers demonstrate the strength of her coattails in Alaska. Palin has always been at loggerheads with Young, openly criticizing him for excessive earmarking. In one of her last interviews before being tapped to the national ticket, she told Roll Call that she had no plans to endorse Young, and called him “abrasive.”

And she recruited and endorsed his primary opponent, lieutenant governor Sean Parnell, and actively campaigned for him. (Parnell has not yet conceded, but trails by 235 votes with nearly all votes counted.)

By contrast, while Palin has distanced herself from Stevens, she didn’t support any of his rivals in the primary. And he certainly has latched onto her popularity despite their previous disagreements.

Moore suggested that Alaskans still want to keep one of their ethically-tainted members of Congress to protect some clout within the delegation. If that’s the case, Alaska voters have squarely cast their lot with Stevens – and are willing to cast Young aside.