Alaska Big and brawny, Alaska is slim on elections this time. Yet the one major contest it does have, for the state's at-large seat in the United States House of Representatives, should generate enough heat to warm the knuckles of an Iditarod dog-sled musher.
It pits Don Young, the veteran GOP incumbent, against Democratic challenger Peter Gruenstein, an Anchorage lawyer and former assistant state prosecutor.
As befits the nation's ``last frontier,'' most of the issues in the contest are uniquely Alaskan: oil drilling in the Arctic, logging in the Tongass National Forest, and fishing.
Yet one of the hottest topics has nothing to do with Alaska but with conduct thousands of miles away in Washington. Mr. Gruenstein accuses Mr. Young of having a poor attendance record in the House.
He has at least some fodder: Young's recent voting participation rate has been below the House norm. Even so, Young's opponents in the past have had little success with the issue.
On major economic matters in this pro-development state, the two candidates are not dramatically different. Both favor, with some variations, permitting oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and logging in Tongass.
Gruenstein chides Young for not doing more to remove restrictions on the export of Alaskan oil, though the 15-year incumbent has tried to block anti-oil-export provisions in the House. Young sears Gruenstein for being a convert on development issues.
Gruenstein, a native New Yorker and former congressional aide, has mounted a stiff challenge. But pundits still expect Young, a bluff former teacher and riverboat captain from the Alaskan bush, to prevail in this heavily Republican state.
Three initiatives will be on the ballot next Tuesday. One involves reform of liability laws. Another, true to Alaskans' skepticism of ``outsiders,'' would give hiring preference to state residents. A third, and controversial, measure would create a community college system separate from the University of Alaska. California
What may be the most expensive race in American history outside of a presidential campaign is unfolding over five auto-insurance initiatives.
They are part of 29 propositions that will be on the ballot in California this fall, the most since the 1930s.
So many complex measures have been put forward that a backlash is brewing over whether the initiative process has gone too far and whether it is becoming a tool of special interests. The book that the secretary of state puts out explaining the initiatives is a hefty 160 pages.
As much as $60 million may be spent on the insurance imbroglio, $43 million by the insurance industry alone. Insurers are backing two initiatives, one no-fault measure (Proposition 104) and another that would limit lawyers' fees in auto-accident and other injury cases (Proposition 106).
The industry's main foe, trial lawyers, are throwing their money and muscle behind Proposition 100, which would cut rates for good drivers. It is also backed by some consumer groups and bankers.
Consumer activist Ralph Nader and his followers trumpet a measure (Proposition 103) that would slash premiums and require an elected insurance commissioner to approve future increases. Proposition 101, championed by a maverick insurance executive, would require some rate cuts and restrictions on legal awards.
If more than one initiative passes, the measure with the most votes takes precedence where provisions conflict. But inevitably the courts would probably have to wade in to resolve inconsistencies.
One other high-profile measure on the ballot would require doctors to report to state health officials patients or blood donors carrying the AIDs virus or those ``reasonably'' believed to be infected. It would be the most sweeping and restrictive law of its kind in the country.
It is being backed by Rep. William E. Dannemeyer, a conservative Republican from Orange County, and Paul Gann, a leader of the tax-cutting movement, who contracted AIDs as a result of a blood transfusion. Opponents - most vociferously homosexuals but also some top politicians and corporations - believe it would lead to discriminatory practices and discourage people infected with the virus from seeking care.
Another controversial measure would funnel as much as $90 million a year into combating hunger and homelessness.
Can Pete repeat?
Republican Pete Wilson wants to be the first incumbent since 1952 to win reelection to this US Senate seat from California. Standing in his way - and hoping the one-term ``jinx'' will last one more time - is Democratic challenger Leo T. McCarthy, California's lieutenant governor and former speaker of the state Assembly.
So far, according to polls, Senator Wilson is sitting pretty. Mr. McCarthy has never commanded the lead in the campaign, although he drew within seven points of Mr. Wilson in February. By May, however, the gap had widened to 19 points, and McCarthy has been waging an uphill battle ever since. The latest polls show the margin to be narrowing, however.
In a multimillion-dollar campaign conducted via television spots, neither side has managed to get a solid grip on the public's attention. Some strategists suggest the Senate contest is getting lost in all the static generated by an unprecedented number of televised political ads.
``Between the ads for the presidential race and the ads for all the ballot initia- tives, they're having trouble getting their messages through,'' says California pollster Mervin Field.
Wilson, a former mayor of San Diego, is a hard-to-typecast Republican who is sometimes an enthusiastic supporter of President Reagan's policies - and sometimes not. He touts Mr. Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, for instance, but he fought the administration over expanding offshore oil drilling along the California coast. Perhaps just as important, he has studiously avoided making the kinds of gaffes that led to the political demise of his single-term predecessors.
McCarthy, meanwhile, claims to be the ``real'' environmental candidate, and he captured the much-coveted Sierra Club endorsement. He has supported an innovative toxics initiative in California and a desert-protection bill in Congress, which Wilson declined to endorse. McCarthy is portraying Wilson as a silver-spoon elitist - a delicate balancing act given his own wealth built on real estate development.
Of the 45 House races in California, only two seem genuinely uncertain. The lack of suspense is a testament to the power of incumbency - and the political cartography of Phillip Burton.
Mr. Burton is the late leader of California Democrats in the House, who drew the congressional boundaries after the 1980 census.
In the two clashes that are close, Republicans hold the seats. That means Democrats seem likely to at least hold on to their margin in the delegation, now 27 to 18, and perhaps gain some.
Most visible is the race between GOP veteran Robert Lagomarsino and Democrat Gary K. Hart in the 19th Congressional District, which includes salt-scented Santa Barbara. A popular seven-term incumbent, Mr. Lagomarsino might normally be an easy victor. But in Mr. Hart (no relation to former Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado), the Democrats have chosen a popular state senator.
Both men are spending freely - more than $1 million each, which should make this the most expensive House election of 1988.
The wild card may be Ronald Reagan, whose ranch sits in the rumpled hills outside town. Lago- marsino has long been a supporter of the President, and some analysts have depicted the race as a referendum on Reaganism.
The two men have plenty of differences on issues. Other than their opposition to oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, they agree on almost nothing. Liberal Hart opposes aid to the Nicaraguan contras and is pro-choice on abortion. Conservative Lagomarsino supports contra aid and the Strategic Defense Initiative.
The race is too close to call.
Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley's 12th District, Anna G. Eshoo (D) is mounting a formidable campaign against Tom Campbell (R).
Ms. Eshoo is a San Mateo County superviser. Mr. Campbell is a Stanford University law professor who defeated the incumbent, Rep. Ernest Konnyu, in the GOP primary. Although Eshoo is running a vigorous grass-roots campaign, analysts give Campbell the edge by a micron.
The Republicans' best run at a Democratic incumbent may come on Los Angeles's east side, where GOP businessman Ralph R. Ramirez is challenging Democratic Rep. Matthew Martinez, though Mr. Martinez's ouster is not expected.
In San Diego, Democratic incumbent Jim Bates, being challenged by Republican Rob Butterfield, is probably safe, but he no longer is invincible since being accused of sexual harassment in a recently published report.
At the state level, Democrats appear poised to hold on to their majorities in both houses of the Legislature. There is some question, however, whether Democrat Willie Brown can keep his post as speaker of the Assembly. He has been opposed by a group of dissident Democrats known as the ``Gang of Five'' and may not be able to muster the 41 votes needed to remain speaker next session.
The nation's youngest state is living up to its tradition of politics as a two-gender arena. Women are again featuring prominently in this year's contests.
At the top of the ticket, cattle rancher Maria M. Hustace, a Republican, is challenging Democratic incumbent Spark Matsunaga for the US Senate. About all she is doing is challenging, though. Handicappers give her about as much chance of winning as Don Ho's going punk.
Although low key and in his 70s, Senator Matsunaga remains popular in this staunchly Democratic state, and he maintains a hefty campaign war chest. As one state GOP official puts it: ``All he has to do is file to get reelected.''
Not so, however, with the state's only Republican member of the congressional delegation. Although freshman incumbent Patricia Saiki is given a slight edge,she faces a tough reelection fight from Democrat Mary Bitterman in the First Congressional District.
Ms. Bitterman has never run for office, but has a substantial r'esum'e. She is a former head of the Voice of America and has held a number of federal and state jobs.
She is also benefiting from a united Democratic Party this time around. Party heavyweights like Mr. Matsunaga and Sen. Daniel Inouye are on the stump for Democrats at all levels.
Even so, they will have their work cut out for them in attempting to unseat Ms. Saiki. No incumbent has ever been defeated in Hawaii, and the former state legislator, of Japanese descent in a district with many Japanese voters, seems to have done little in office to undermine her popularity.
On the initiative front, high-decibel debate is reverberating over measures on the ballot on Oahu and the big island of Hawaii that seek to prevent commercial development near well-known beaches.
Most interesting is the struggle for control of the legislature, which the Democrats have had a lock on for at least 15 years.
They seem likely to continue to reign in the state Senate, now tilted 17 to 13. But the House could be another matter. The GOP has been whittling away at the Democratic majority (now 31 to 29) for several years. In 1986, the Republicans lost one race by just 35 votes, which would have evened the delegations.
This year the GOP thinks it can wrest control. The complexion of the legislature will be important because of the redrawing of congressional districts that will take place after the 1990 census. It will also determine whether Democratic Gov. Neil Goldschmidt has an amiable body with which to work.
``It's nip and tuck for the state legislature,'' says James Klonoski, a political scientist at the University of Oregon.
In national elections, all five of the state's House members appear likely to return to their desks in Washington.
Two Democrats, Les AuCoin and Ron Wyden, have modest or no opposition. Freshman Democrat Peter DeFazio is being challenged by Jim Howard, a local school superintendent, whom the Republican Party thinks will benefit from support from George Bush and other GOP candidates in the district. But most analysts think Mr. DeFazio will be easily reelected.
GOP incumbent Robert Smith, in the sprawling Second Congressional District, looks like a comfortable victor, too, although his challenger, Larry Tuttle, a county commissioner, has been endorsed by the powerful Portland Oregonian newspaper.
The most visible race seems to be taking place in the heart of the fertile Willamette Valley, in the Fifth District, where GOP incumbent Denny Smith is being challenged by Mike Kopetski, a Democratic state representative.
A conservative first elected in 1980, Mr. Smith has been championing a popular anticrime initiative on the Oregon ballot that would prohibit parole or probation for repeat violent felons. Democrats think he has spent so much time stumping for the proposition that it has left an opening for Mr. Kopetski.
Kopetski likes to remind voters of crime-related measures in Congress for which Smith didn't vote. Even so, the incumbent, a generally hawkish Vietnam veteran who in recent years has gained visibility for attacking wasteful Pentagon spending, is expected to win.
Besides the crime initiative, Oregon will have seven other measures on the ballot. Perhaps most contentious is one that would revoke an executive order by the governor banning discrimination against homosexuals.
Other initiatives would ban smoking in workplaces and public buildings, expand the state's scenic waterway system, and impose a tax on beer and cigarettes to help fund university sports programs.
For US Senate candidate Slade Gorton (R), a victory on Nov. 8 would taste doubly sweet after the bitter defeat he swallowed in 1986. First elected to the Senate in the 1980 Reagan landslide, Mr. Gorton was ousted by voters after his first term in favor of Democrat Brock Adams. Now, in a bid to recoup his loss, Mr. Gorton is in a tight race with Congressman Mike Lowry (D) for the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Daniel Evans.
Trying to predict the outcome of the race would be like walking an oscillating tightrope. Few candidates have been able to find firm footing in the state since the 1980 defeat of six-term Sen. Warren Magnuson and the 1983 death of veteran Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson, which together ended more than 30 years of rock-solid stability in Washington politics.
Polls show that both Senate candidates have high negative ratings with voters, which they are trying to offset with image-changing ads. Gorton, considered something of a cold fish in political circles, is warming up his image by featuring his grandchildren in TV spots. Mr. Lowry has shaved off his Arafat-style beard and ironed his suits in hopes he will not be tagged as a wild-eyed liberal.
Drugs, the environment, and social security spending are big issues. Gorton was vulnerable in 1986 over his support for putting a nuclear-waste dump at the Hanford nuclear reservation in eastern Washington, and Lowry intends to resurrect Hanford-related issues. Gorton depicts Lowry as an American Civil Liberties Union-style liberal.
In the tightest US House race, in the district just north of Seattle, GOP incumbent John Miller faces a tough rematch with Democrat Reese Lindquist, a former president of the state teachers' union.
Mr. Lindquist found Mr. Miller's support for aid to the Nicaraguan contras to be an effective issue last time around. He's trying it again, along with advocating increased spending for education. Even so, analysts give Miller the edge in a district gerrymandered to benefit Republicans.
In the only other competitive House race, in southwest Washington, state Rep. Jolene Unsoeld (D) is favored over Republican Bill Wight in an open seat. Mr. Wight recently moved back to the state after serving in the Pentagon and is still trying to build a base of support.
Amid the turmoil of Washington state politics, the gubernatorial race appears to be smooth sailing for incumbent Democrat Booth Gardner. He faces only modest opposition from Republican Bob Williams, a five-term state representative. Mr. Williams is building a grass-roots campaign but probably won't be able to withstand Governor Gardner's well-financed media blitz.
Sparring is going on over two toxic-waste initiatives.
Measure 97, backed by environmentalists, would impose a tax on hazardous substances and use the money to clean up toxic wastes. The Legislature has hatched a less-far-reaching measure, ``Alternate 97B,'' supported by many major corporations.