In 2006, Benson ran an impressive race against Republican Representative Don Young for Alaska’s single at-large seat. She spent approximately 10% as much as her opponent but still won over 40% of the vote – only the third time in 33 years a Democratic challenger had crossed that threshold in vying for the seat.
This time around, Rep. Young has spent over $1 million – including campaign funds – as he faces criminal investigations for bribery and extortion. He’s also tarnished by rampant Republican corruption in Alaska on the state and federal levels – the latest case involving Senator Ted Stevens who was indicted last Tuesday on federal corruption charges. Benson’s candidacy offers a refreshing contrast to the abuse of power that Alaskans have grown weary of. But in 2008 she has also faced stiffer competition in the Democratic field – now whittled down to two candidates. On August 26, she and former State House Democratic leader Ethan Berkowitz will square off in the primary. Congressional Quarterly wrote that the race is too close to call.
As Benson told Indian Country Today, “People see that there’s a wounded moose in their midst. I remind them it’s like a pack of wolves circling the moose. It took the first wolf to strike to start bringing it down. The fact is, I’m the one who was out there when it didn’t look possible. I frankly think that’s the kind of representation people need.”
But Berkowitz has received the nod and financial support from the Inside the Beltway Democratic establishment. He received contributions from Rahm Emanuel’s PAC and is listed on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee website as part of its “Red to Blue” slate of candidates. The more progressive 21st Century Democrats, on the other hand, recently endorsed Benson. Among other issues, the group cited her commitments to universal healthcare, alternative energy, and clean elections. In a statement 21st Century Democrats wrote, “Diane’s opposition to the war and disgust at the poor treatment of veterans like her son prompted her to challenge long-serving Congressman Don Young in 2006. Under-funded and without national support, Diane gave him the closest race he had faced in decades. She was willing to take him on again before his ethical troubles gained traction and other Democrats decided to enter the race.”