Late this evening, from 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. our five major U.S. House candidates will appear in a forum produced and hosted by Anchorage's KTUU-TV, and the League of Women Voters. It will be broadcast live.
A notice on the debate at the Anchorage Daily News web site states, "there will be room for a small audience, according to KTUU." What does that mean? Wendy Williamson Auditorium seats between 400 and 900, depending on how it is configured. That wouldn't be a "small audience" by Alaska candidate forum or debate standards. I've got messages in to KTUU's event producer, to find out what that means.
From 9:00 to 9:30, Diane Benson and Ethan Berkowitz will be featured; from 9:30 to 10:00, Gabrielle LeDoux, Sean Parnell and Don Young will get their chance.
Last Friday evening the three GOP hopefuls met for the first time in Ketchikan, at a forum/debate sponsored by the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce. The last time they had all been in a room together before that, was on March 14, the opening day of the Alaska GOP Convention.
Friday's Ketchikan debate was only covered by the Ketchikan Daily News, as far as I can tell. I nicked this picture from their web site. They also wrote an article about the debate, but unlike just about every other newspaper in Alaska, they won't let you read any of their feature articles on the web unless you pay them to see it.
So, tonight will be the first opportunity to see all five of these candidates at the same event. The closest we've come to this before was at the Kodiak FishCom Debate in late March. I scored that one with LeDoux winning on the GOP side, Berkowitz winning on the Democratic side. Parnell wasn't there, and Democratic Party candidate Jake Metcalfe has since left the race.
At the May Hispanic Affairs Council of Alaska forum, I scored LeDoux easily besting Parnell, who was derided and all but booed by the audience for his evasive, shifty answers and non-answers. Both Berkowitz and Benson were knowledgeable about Hispanic issues, with Berkowitz winning on Spanish pronunciation, and the two of them tying - in my mind - on the issues themselves.
Benson and Berkowitz have since debated in Fairbanks in June; in front of the Alaska Women's Political Caucus, in Anchorage, in July; and on Anchorage's KUDO, last Thursday. Additionally, they both spoke twice at the Alaska Democratic Party Convention over the Memorial Day Weekend, and spent hours on the convention floor, participating and making themselves available to party members and the public. I saw no clear winner in any of these appearances, which has worked to Diane Benson's benefit.
The Democratic Party candidates have been far more visible and accessible than any of the Republicans, save Gabrielle LeDoux, who has actually tried. She might have been more available than she has been, but has had to spend time with her family. Don Young has made more public campaign appearances in 2008 than in the previous six campaigns put together. Parnell has not only been conspicuously absent from most events, he hasn't fared well in any public forum.
Apparently, there will be a poll coming out this week, showing Berkowitz ahead of Benson in the primary contest. This should come as no big surprise, with his name recognition and huge campaign chest.
What is important at this point, is that the unprecedented interest in the Alaska - At-Large U.S. House race is unique, and healthy, from the perspectives of keeping our democracy viable, and of rebuilding the Alaska Democratic Party. Having watched the Benson-Berkowitz match-up as closely as anyone, I've observed both of them refine positions and build interest in Alaska's voters about this important contest.
Update - Monday at noon: Off the phone a few minutes ago with the KTUU producer of the forum. She says she told the ADN about the "there will be room for a small audience thing," to keep the place from being swamped. I told her I doubted that would happen. She says anyone who wants to attend the forum may do so.
Benson, Berkowitz and Young - Benson campaign
Parnell, LeDoux and Young - Tom Miller, Ketchikan Daily News