Presidential candidate Barack Obama is touting the Alaska natural gas pipeline.
Obama included the project in the energy plan he announced this week, calling for working "with the Canadian government to finally build the Alaska natural gas pipeline, delivering clean natural gas and creating good jobs in the process."
That brought the Democrat kudos from Gov. Sarah Palin, who some pundits are pushing as a possible vice presidential running mate for Republican John McCain.
Two of Obama's top advisers repeated the theme in a teleconference with Alaska reporters Wednesday. They said Obama would encourage a federal partnership with Alaska to further the project and try to prevent Exxon Mobil from having a "disproportionate influence over the timetable over the construction of this pipeline,"
They were vague about how the partnership would work and how Exxon's influence might be blunted, saying that would have to be worked out with the governor.
"The federal government could play a bigger role in trying to get all parties together to get this thing moving and try to find consensus in how to get it moving," said Obama adviser Pete Rouse, a former Alaskan.
Rouse said Obama spoke about the gasline with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich and former Gov. Tony Knowles. McCain, he noted, opposed the federal loan guarantees and other incentives Congress passed for the Alaska gas pipeline project in 2004.
The Republican National Committee countered that McCain is for increasing the nation's supplies of energy while politics is driving Obama's energy plan.
"Obama reversed his position on the strategic petroleum reserve, downplayed his position against offshore drilling, and inflated his position on tires," said RNC spokesman Bill Riggs. "With an energy policy so out of touch with the America people, it's not surprising that Obama is doing everything he can to move closer to John McCain's "all of the above" energy solution."
Both Obama and McCain are against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Palin said she's not giving up hope that McCain will change his mind on ANWR.
BEGICH HEALTH CARE PLAN
Begich, one of the Democrats running for Republican Ted Stevens' seat in the U.S. Senate, announced his health care plan at a Wednesday campaign event in Anchorage. He said he'd advocate expanding health insurance for kids and letting everyone buy into the same health care system as members of Congress.
"About a fifth of all Alaskans, about 111,000, could truly be on the brink of financial ruin because they don't have health insurance ... in the richest country in the world, in the wealthiest state in the nation, our relatives and our neighbors cannot afford basic coverage to see a doctor for needed care. This is not acceptable," he said.
Stevens' spokesman, Aaron Saunders, said Begich is making campaign promises without giving Alaskans specifics on how he can deliver. "It is unclear how he would pay for the plan or how someone with no experience or knowledge of the federal system could get a plan like this through Congress," Saunders said in an e-mail.
The Begich campaign estimates his plan would cost between $80 and $110 billion a year. But the campaign claims that about $70 billion could be saved through the plan by greater use of generic drugs, investing in new technology, negotiating lower Medicare drug prices, and putting more money into prevention.
The Begich campaign said some costs of the program could come from "phasing out the Bush Administration's tax perks for the wealthiest of the wealthy Americans and corporations."
Begich's 18-point plan includes:
Letting people buy into the health insurance plan that covers member of Congress and other federal employees. Standard individual plan cost is a little less than $500 a month and people could buy-in on a sliding scale based on income, the campaign said.
Expanding eligibility for the state Children's Health Insurance Program to cover people who make up to $66,000 for a family of four in Alaska.
Tax credits for small businesses and incentives for states to create opportunities for businesses to pool insurance.
The Stevens campaign said "reforming the health care system is an ongoing objective that requires incremental progress." It said Stevens has secured millions of dollars for Alaska health clinics, supported the increase in Medicare payments, is pushing tele-medicine programs, and has worked on health insurance legislation.
Begich rolled out his plan at the Anchorage senior center . Seniors and health care advocates in the crowd seemed enthusiastic. But in order to get to the press conference reporters had to walk by a plaque reading: "Sen. Ted Stevens, with great appreciation for his ongoing support for the health and fitness of seniors."
CUDDY ON THE STUMP
Dave Cuddy, a Republican running in the U.S. Senate primary against Stevens, was in Kenai Wednesday.
Conservative activist Bay Buchanan, sister of commentator and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, is supporting Cuddy and the campaign said she would join him in Kenai.
Buchanan also participated in the Council of State Governments-West meeting in Anchorage last month.
BENSON IN D.C.
Diane Benson, who is competing with Ethan Berkowitz in the Democratic primary for the U.S. House, on Tuesday was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.
Benson said she spent months at Walter Reed after her son lost his legs in Iraq in 2005, and things have improved since the Washington Post ran an investigative series on the hospital in 2007.
She also said problems remain with veterans' health care and that, for example, her son still hasn't received his permanent prosthetic legs. "What we don't have is enough funding. What we have is a bureaucracy that still makes it very complicated for people to get what they need."
Find Sean Cockerham online at adn.com/contact/scockerham or call him at 257-4344. Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins contributed to this story.