Most Alaskans have never heard of Vic Vickers. But he wants to be their next U.S. senator, and will be hard to avoid between now and the Aug. 26 Republican primary. He says he's prepared to spend $750,000 of his own money to beat Ted Stevens, and says he is buying up all the statewide television airtime he can for his ads.
Vickers has been an Alaska resident only since January. He was a registered Democrat in Florida before moving here, buying a house and filing to run as a Republican. His campaign communications director is an environmentalist county commissioner from Tallahassee who the campaign pays to fly back to Florida so he can attend commission meetings.
Vickers himself is the former assistant state comptroller of Florida, a lawyer, author and owner of a Florida-based maritime company.
He's one of six Republicans challenging Stevens in the primary. He called a press conference Wednesday morning outfront of Steven's campaign office on Fireweed Lane to demand Stevens resign from the Senate.
"I think the choices are clear here," Vickers said. "We've got a corrupt politician on one hand, and on the other hand, I think the people of Alaska know that I will fight for them."
With his talk of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campaign, Vickers started getting attention on national political Web sites this week, before and after Stevens' Tuesday indictment. "If a guy is going to spend $750,000, you can't ignore him," said Anchorage pollster Marc Hellenthal.
The Stevens campaign filmed his news conference. "He's an outsider who is trying to buy a Senate seat," said Stevens's campaign spokesman, Aaron Saunders.
Vickers hasn't lived in Alaska long enough to qualify to run for the state Legislature, but residency rules for U.S. Senate candidates aren't so strict. "You just have to be an inhabitant of the state from which you're elected," said Alaska election coordinator Lauri Wilson.
Vickers said he has long ties to Alaska. He hitchhiked the Alaska Highway as a college student in 1970 and was taken in by Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice George Boney, whose brother had coached Vickers in high school football. He said he worked for Boney for two years, and the chief justice was his mentor. "I promised the chief I'd come back and give back to Alaska."
Vickers said he's come back to Alaska almost every summer for the last 38 years, and he would have moved to the state sooner but he was taking care for his ailing mother. He said researching a book on Alaska's corruption scandal inspired to run for Senate.
He bought a house assessed for $550,000 in Turnagain earlier this year. He brought his wife, Sandee, and two young children north.
"I've renounced my homestead exemption in Florida, which is a big deal, I've established my permanent residence here," he said.
'ACCUMULATION OF WEALTH'
Vickers said his money to run for office comes from "an accumulation of wealth that I've developed over 38 years." He said he owns real estate in Florida, Arizona and Utah, as well as his home in Anchorage. He said he has a controlling interest in the Florida maritime firm of Eller and Co. Public records list him as a director of the firm.
"And during my 30's, after I had been a bank regulator in Florida, during the 1980's, I formed 60 banks and financial institutions in Florida, many of those I sold," he said.
Vickers claims to have led opposition to the Bush administration's plans to allow the Emir of Dubai to purchase East Coast port facilities. Vickers' name doesn't show up in media coverage at the time. But some did report in 2006 that an attorney/lobbyist named Joseph Muldoon, representing Eller & Co., was a key person to influence Congress in an effort to keep the Dubai-owned company from controlling U.S. ports.
Vickers said he tried to personally stay private -- prior to this decision to run for the Senate.
"I turned down (an interview) with Lou Dobbs, I turned down Chris Matthews, Forbes magazine was talking about doing a big piece on me, I turned them down," Vickers said.
He did make the news in the mid-1980's. Florida newspapers said he was under investigation for influence peddling. Vickers had helped Democrat Gerald Lewis get elected state comptroller in 1974, according to the St. Petersburg Times. The comptroller was the state's chief fiscal officer and bank regulator and Vickers was his top assistant.
Vickers said he wasn't found to have done anything wrong. Lewis was the one who was really being investigated, Vickers said -- and had tried to shift the attention to Vickers after attempting to "shake me down."
"He wanted me to buy swampland his wife owned," Vickers said.
Vickers said that was his break with the Democratic Party, he next ran a Republican's campaign. He didn't change his party registration, though, and gave money to Democrats in subsequent races.
Vickers said he's running as a Republican because he sees the party as the best chance to balance the federal budget, but he's not a partisan.
"I don't really think political parties mean that much these days," he said.