Alaska's Gore chairman faces tough sledding

Posted: Wednesday, August 16, 2000

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- As tall orders go, Willie Anderson faces a doozy -- getting Alaskans to vote for Al Gore for president.

Anderson, a delegate at this week's Democratic National Convention, is chairman of what passes for the Gore campaign in Alaska. Right now that means a few volunteers waiting for something to do, he said.

''Being in the political scene as I am, I don't think there's a chance that Gore will win Alaska,'' said Anderson, who works as a a union representative and lobbyist for the National Education Association of Alaska. ''But I want a respectable showing.''

Anderson defines respectable as 40 percent of the vote, which would count as a decisive defeat in many states. But he's working with a candidate almost custom-designed to turn off Alaska voters.

Alaska hasn't backed a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Bill Clinton lost badly in both of the last two elections, nearly finishing third to George Bush and Ross Perot in 1992. In 1996, he got 36 percent of the vote.

And even more than Clinton, Gore embodies the type of Democrat many Alaskans find most objectionable -- the Lower 48 environmentalist. He has opposed any oil or gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and backed closing the Tongass National Forest to further logging.

''Gore is profoundly unpopular,'' said Ivan Moore, an Anchorage pollster and political consultant. ''It's a combination of his ideology, generally speaking, being wildly out of whack with Alaska.''

Moore said Gore consistently scores a 50 percent negative rating in polls of Alaskans.

''Whoever runs the campaign has got to go into it with the goal of doing the best you can instead of winning,'' Moore said.

But even doing the best they can may be difficult for Anderson and his campaign. The national Gore campaign hasn't decided whether to even send a paid campaign staffer, he said.

''That's an issue that we're still discussing with the campaign, whether there will be an office there or just an all-volunteer effort,'' Anderson said.

The Democrats don't have a viable candidate to challenge veteran GOP Rep. Don Young for Alaska's only seat in Congress, lessening the appeal of a full-scale Gore campaign in the state, Anderson said.

There also may be very little money to work with. Anderson said only 70 people in Alaska have contributed to Gore's campaign, money that all went to the national effort. There has been no organized fund-raising effort so far, and even a big push might not raise much money for a lost cause.

''Alaska Democrats aren't deep pockets,'' Anderson shrugged.

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