ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Democrats can see the writing on the wall this year: Republican Congressman Don Young's re-election looks like a slam-dunk.
Young, who was elected to Congress in 1973, will face the winner of a weak slate of rivals competing in the Aug. 22 primary. Contenders hoping to topple Young include three Democrats who have never held elective office.
''He is a very powerful guy and has proven to be difficult to take on,'' said Chris Cooke, chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party.
No seasoned politician within the party is willing to go up against Young at this time, he said.
Young, the 16th highest ranking Republican in the House, faced stiff challenges in 1978, 1984, 1986, 1990 and 1992, but more recently he's had easier victories. In 1998, he won by nearly a 30-point margin against Senate Minority Leader Jim Duncan.
This election promises to be an easy ride for Young. Even so, Young said he's taking the election seriously.
''I never take anything for granted,'' he said.
Young, who chairs the Committee on Resources, has risked alienating his GOP colleagues by spearheading the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, a $45 billion, 15-year conservation fund to buy parks and open spaces, pay for wildlife protection and restore damaged coastlines. The bill would dedicate half of the federal money received from offshore oil development to coastal states. Alaska would receive about $165 million a year.
Some of Young's staunchest supporters have said the bill, which was passed on an overwhelming 315-102 vote in the House but faces uncertain prospects in the Senate, is a federal land grab. The bill also has drawn Young closer to House Democrats, who voted 196-8 in favor of it.
Young said he's not concerned about the fallout. He said he's sponsoring the bill because it is good for Alaska and will preserve something for future generations.
He predicted he has the votes to make the bill law.
''This is something I believe in,'' Young said. ''This is the right thing to do.''
Deborah Williams, executive director of the Alaska Conservation Foundation, said Young is sincere in his effort to preserve land. She got to know Young in the 1990s when she served as Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's special assistant for Alaska.
''In Don Young's heart, he loves what's special about Alaska. I think he's sad that people in the Lower 48 don't have as much open space,'' Williams said.
Several of Young's primary rivals are hoping to take advantage of the CARA debate.
''I just call him former conservative Don Young. What really turned the tide for me was CARA,'' said Jim Dore, a part-time aircraft mechanic from Anchorage who is an Alaskan Independence Party candidate. ''In the United States the feds already own one-third of the country.''
Young's CARA bill has done nothing to endear him to Alaska Green Party candidate Anna Young, a former gillnetter from Seward.
Young's bill ''is a little bit too late,'' she said. She's against giving the federal government stewardship over more land, particularly when she reflects on the protracted legal fight over the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
''The fishermen have never been paid off. They have brought us down to our knees and are kicking us,'' she said.
Democratic candidate Dae Miles, a political activist from Fairbanks and squash farmer, said CARA is a ''late attempt'' by Young to do something for the environment.
Democratic candidate Frank Vondersaar of Homer, who has no phone, got almost 6 percent of the vote two years ago when he ran against U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski. His campaign Web site says he's ''pro-jobs, pro-choice and anti-fascist.''
Democrat Clifford Mark Greene of Ketchikan, who is a paralegal, said he thinks his chances of winning are good because ''people are looking for a change in government.''
Greene is in favor of comprehensive national health insurance, affordable housing and more money for public schools.
Young, who spent about $1 million on his last campaign, can far outspend his opponents this time around. Dore has budgeted $1,000 for his campaign. Anna Young has budgeted less than $5,000 for brochures and T-shirts. Greene will spend less than $5,000. Miles said he expects to spend less than $2,500.
Cooke said the money is a big obstacle to Young's opponents.
''These guys in Congress are always campaigning and raising money,'' he said.
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