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Young in Their Sights

And if Young defeats his likely primary challenger, Democrats are hoping state Rep. Harry Crawford (D) can defeat him in the general election. Crawford announced his candidacy for the seat at the end of August.

Some Alaska Democrats are optimistic about Crawford because he presents a different candidate profile than former state House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz (D), who lost to Young by a 5-point margin in November.

David Shurtleff, an Alaska political strategist who worked for Berkowitz, described Crawford as an “old-school, blue-collar Democrat.”

“He can go toe to toe with Don Young in terms of that backwoods, gritty, one-liner charm,” Shurtleff said.

According to one Alaskan Democratic official, Berkowitz had trouble shaking his image as an attorney. Crawford, on the other hand, is known for his folksy demeanor and often references his time as an iron worker on the Trans-Alaska pipeline.

“Ethan didn’t have that, quite honestly,” an Alaskan Democratic official said. “A lot of times races in Alaska are about ‘who is more Alaskan.’ ... Ethan has never been able to shake that outsider, young attorney from San Francisco image.”

Many Alaskan political observers know Crawford because he defeated former state Speaker Ramona Barnes (R) to win his solidly GOP state House district in 2000.

“He’s not the most articulate guy in the world,” one Democratic official said. “He’s just a relentless campaigner.”

In a phone interview, Crawford described himself as a “retail politician” who contacts his constituency in an “upfront and personal” manner.

“I can bring a perspective to Congress that Don Young hasn’t been bringing,” Crawford said. “I think I connect with people here in Alaska. People in my district consider me their friend, not just their Representative. And that’s what I take to the people of Alaska.”

Shurtleff believes that turnout will be different in the midterm election, which could also boost Crawford’s chances.

President Barack Obama declared victory in the White House contest by late afternoon in Alaska on Election Day in 2008, plus many local voters wanted to show support of Palin’s bid for vice president. Both of those factors, Shurtleff said, failed to push Berkowitz over the finish line in 2008.

While Democrats are not expected to win seats in 2010 across the country, they could do better in Alaska without Palin on the ticket, some party strategists believe.

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