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Young and Parnell neck and neck all night

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service
Ethan Berkowitz who is running for the US House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Don Young talks with supporters Bonnie and Roger Marcil at a primary election party for Berkowitz at Snow City Cafe on Tuesday August 26. 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sign wavers work to get out the vote during Tuesday night's rush hour at Northern Lights and the Seward Highway. Four ballot measures as well as primaries for US House representative and US Senate were on the ballot August 26, 2008.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich talks with TV reporters at the Egan Center on election night Tuesday August 26, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Ethan Berkowitz, who is running for the US House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Don Young, his wife Mara Kimmel and daughter Hannah Berowitz Kimmel at a primary election party for Berkowitz at Snow City Cafe on Tuesday August 26. 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Don Young supporters work to get out the vote during Tuesday night's rush hour along the Seward Highway. Four ballot measures as well as primaries for US House representative and US Senate were on the ballot August 26, 2008.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Ethan Berkowitz who is running for the US House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Don Young at a primary election party for Berkowitz at Snow City Cafe on Tuesday August 26. 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Hannah Berkowitz, 7 years old, only has eyes for her dad Ethan Berkowitz who is running for the US House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Don Young. Hannah and her friend Cybelle Wolters, 6 years, are at a primary election party for Berkowitz at Snow City Cafe on Tuesday August 26. 2008. 080826
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Ethan Berkowitz who is running for the US House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Don Young at a primary election party for Berkowitz at Snow City Cafe on Tuesday August 26. 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Ethan Berkowitz who is running for the US House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Don Young at a primary election party for Berkowitz at Snow City Cafe on Tuesday August 26. 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Ted Stevens poses with supporters Shari Spitzer, left, Allison Spitzer, 17, and Royce Harrell at campaign headquarters while awaiting results election evening Tuesday August 26, 2008 on Fireweed Lane.
Erik Hill / Anchorage Daily News
Ethan Berkowitz who is running for the US House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Don Young at a primary election party for Berkowitz at Snow City Cafe on Tuesday August 26. 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Ted Stevens, right, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski celebrate Stevens' apparent victory at his campaign headquarters election evening Tuesday August 26, 2008 on Fireweed Lane.
Sen. Ted Stevens discusses the presidential election with budding political junkie Lona Sudduth, 17, left and Wenda Sudduth at his campaign headquarters while awaiting results election evening Tuesday August 26, 2008 on Fireweed Lane. "This was her birthday wish to see Sen. Stevens and ask him about presidential candidates," said mom Wenda.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Ethan Berkowitz who is running for the US House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Don Young at a primary election party for Berkowitz at Snow City Cafe on Tuesday August 26. 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Obama supporter Sam Schneidman holds up a sign while US Senator Ted Stevens supporters Try to block it while Stevens talks with TV reporters at the Egan Center on election night Tuesday August 26, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Dave Cuddy waves to commuters during Tuesday night's rush hour at Northern Lights and the Seward Highway.Four ballot measures as well as primaries for US House representative and US Senate were on the ballot August 26, 2008.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
US Senator Ted Stevens at the Egan Center on election night Tuesday August 26, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Jim Duffield encourages drivers to vote no on ballot measure 4 surrounded by supporters of the measure, during Tuesday night's rush hour at Northern Lights and the Seward Highway. Four ballot measures as well as primaries for US House representative and US Senate were on the ballot August 26, 2008.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
US Senator Ted Stevens supporter Janel Causey waves a sign at the Egan Center on election night Tuesday August 26, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Katie Lease sports a killer whale hat while supporting ballot measure 4 during Tuesday night's rush hour at Northern Lights and the Seward Highway. Four ballot measures as well as primaries for US House representative and US Senate were on the ballot August 26, 2008.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Former Gov. Bill Sheffield stops by to congratulate Sen. Ted Stevens at his campaign headquarters election evening Tuesday August 26, 2008 on Fireweed Lane.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Anchorage mayor Mark Begich chats with Harriet Beleal of Sitka after he was handed a cell phone by Beleal's daughter Lynette Moreno-Hinz Tuesday evening August 26, 2008 at election central at the Egan Center. His wife Deborah Bonito stands by.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Uwe Kalenka (right) waves at commuters during Tuesday night's rush hour at Benson and the Seward Highway. Kalenka is running for state house district 24. Four ballot measures as well as primaries for US House representative and US Senate were on the ballot August 26, 2008.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Ethan Berkowitz who is running for the US House of Representatives seat currently held by Rep. Don Young gets a kiss from his wife Mara Kimmel at a primary election party for Berkowitz at Snow City Cafe on Tuesday August 26. 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
A supporter of Ballot Measure Number 3 in the Alaska primary election waves a sign along with other candidate supporters on the corner of College Road and University Avenue in Fairbanks, Alaska, on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008. Measure No. 3 if passed would create a voluntary program of public funding for state election campaigns.
Photo by Eric Engman / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / AP
Sen. Ted Stevens, flanked by former House speaker Gail Phillips, left, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, watches early returns at his campaign headquarters election evening Tuesday August 26, 2008 on Fireweed Lane.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Supporters and a few opponents of ballot measure 4 try to get drivers attention during Tuesday night's rush hour at Northern Lights and the Seward Highway. Four ballot measures as well as primaries for US House representative and US Senate were on the ballot August 26, 2008.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Ted Stevens celebrates with supporters as early returns come in at his campaign headquarters election evening Tuesday August 26, 2008 on Fireweed Lane. Former House speaker Gail Phillips, left, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, right, were among those paying respects.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Ted Steven's supporters encourage drivers to vote during Tuesday night's rush hour at Northern Lights and the Seward Highway. Four ballot measures as well as primaries for US House representative and US Senate were on the ballot August 26, 2008.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Ted Stevens, right, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski celebrate Stevens' apparent victory at his campaign headquarters election evening Tuesday August 26, 2008 on Fireweed Lane.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Mark Begich campaign signs await unloading from a car at his primary election night party at the Anchor Pub in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 26, 2008. Begich is running for the democratic nomination for the US Senate seat currently held by Ted Stevens.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senator Ted Stevens and Democratic Challenger Mark Begich shake hands at the Egan Center on election night Tuesday August 26, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Ted Stevens celebrates with supporters at his campaign headquarters election evening Tuesday August 26, 2008 on Fireweed Lane.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Rachel Saul and Shiran Zohar bring in Mark Begich campaign signs to his primary election night party at the Anchor Pub in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 26, 2008. Begich is running for the democratic nomination for the US Senate seat currently held by Ted Stevens.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sandy Parnell and Sean Parnell at his headquarters on Tuesday August 26, 2008 after Sandy Parnell gave a television interview.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Ted Stevens, left, and Anchorage mahyor Mark Begich greet each other after winning their primaries to face off against each other in the upcoming general election Tuesday evening August 26, 2008 at election central at the Egan Center.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
State Rep. Carl Gatto, center, waves to passing motorists as his primary opponent David Parks, left and his supporters Brenda Arney and Cathy Endes stand opposite at the intersection of the Glenn and Palmer-Wasilla Highways in Palmer on Tuesday, August 26, 2008.
Photo by STEPHEN NOWERS / Anchorage Daily News
Sean Parnell and and supporter look at early election results at his headquarters on Tuesday August 26, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Ted Stevens chats with supporters at his campaign headquarters while awaiting results election evening Tuesday August 26, 2008 on Fireweed Lane.
Photo by ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
State Rep. Carl Gatto waves to passing motorists at the corner of the Glenn and Palmer-Wasilla Highways in Palmer on Tuesday, August 26, 2008.
Photo by STEPHEN NOWERS / Anchorage Daily News
US Senator Ted Stevens at the Egan Center on election night Tuesday August 26, 2008.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News

U.S. Rep. Don Young was fighting for his political life early Wednesday, running neck-and-neck with Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in a race too close to call.

With 83 percent of precincts reporting in the Republican U.S. House primary at 1:30 a.m., Parnell was leading but less than one half of one percentage point separated the two candidates. The difference was just 263 votes, with Parnell up 41,613 to 41,350.

"We're on the edge of our seat like everybody else," said Mike Anderson, Young's chief of staff who was working on the campaign and analyzing the returns Tuesday night.

Most of the precincts that hadn't reported election results as of midnight were from rural Alaska villages. Those are "typical Young strongholds," Anderson said. But Parnell wasn't convinced Young was going to clean up in the Bush, especially given many rural residents might choose to vote in Tuesday's Democratic primary instead of Republican contest.

There are also the 16,000 absentee ballots the division of elections mailed out. It has received back 7,600 of them and Gail Fenumiai, director of the state division of elections, said she didn't know how many of those have been counted. As long as the absentee ballots were postmarked Tuesday, the division will continue to count them for the next 10 days. Questioned ballots will be counted on Sept. 5.

Young, 75, is running for re-election under the shadow of a Justice Department investigation and has been described by opponents as a "wounded bear." The candidate was in Fort Yukon on Tuesday night, Anderson said, watching the results on his neighbor's cable television and getting updates from Anderson by telephone.

Young declined a request for a telephone interview.

The winner of the Young-Parnell race will face Democrat Ethan Berkowitz in the November general election. Berkowitz, a former Democratic leader in the state Legislature, had a large lead over Diane Benson in the Democratic U.S. House primary.

U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens avoided Young's drama Tuesday night, easily crushing six Republican primary challengers despite his indictment on federal felony charges of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts and home repairs from the oil field services company Veco Corp.

Stevens, tentatively set to stand trial Sept. 24 in Washington, D.C., will face Democrat Mark Begich in the November election. Begich, the mayor of Anchorage, easily swatted aside Ray Metcalfe and Frank Vondersaar in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary. Begich was bringing in over 84 percent of the vote.

The real race Tuesday was Young vs. Parnell.

Parnell gave a speech at his campaign headquarters late Tuesday night in which he thanked his supporters "for staying up with us." He also expressed gratitude to his family and Gov. Sarah Palin, who endorsed his challenge of Young. "I'm just so thankful for her support and her family's support as well," he said.

"We're confident about the numbers...but obviously this race is just too close to call," Parnell said.

Parnell was helped by the fact that Young, Alaska's lone member of the U.S. House since 1973, spent more than a million dollars of his campaign contributions on legal fees. Young refuses to say exactly what his legal fees have been paying for, but the congressman is connected to several federal investigations. They include the wide-ranging federal probe into corruption in Alaska politics, which has focused on the fundraising practices of Veco Corp.

Young denies wrongdoing and hasn't been charged.

Voter Lee Pitts said the incumbent Stevens and Young have "gotten too arrogant for my liking." He said Young's decision to "raid" a Parnell press conference last week was an example.

But voters like Audrey Myers, who voted at Abbott Loop Elementary in Anchorage, weren't ready to dump Stevens and Young for other Republicans.

"I'm still leaning on incumbents. I think the incumbents have brought in a lot of money and I'm not sure about the new people," Myers said.

Parnell, 45, had the support of the Washington, D.C., anti-spending group Club for Growth, which financed most of his campaign. Young has been criticized nationally as a "porker" for his pursuit of money for Alaska projects, a term he embraced.

Parnell ran to the right of Young, saying Congress spends too much. Parnell also pledged to restore Alaska's national reputation and work in tandem with Palin if elected.

Young taunted Parnell in the campaign, at one point calling him "Captain Zero," and told Alaskans they needed to re-elect him because of his seniority and connections. He conceded he sometimes came across as arrogant and a bully, but said it's just because he fights for the state. Young said that Parnell's backers in the Club for Growth are extremist enemies of Alaska's interests.

Kodiak state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux also ran in the Republican primary for the U.S. House seat, bringing in less than 10 percent of the vote by late Tuesday night.

Ted Stevens, who has been in the U.S. Senate since 1968, told Alaska Republican primary voters they needed to re-elect him for his effectiveness. Stevens, who has steered billions of dollars to the state, ran TV ads in the final week of the campaign with the theme, "Without Ted, we're toast."

"I'm doing my job - everyone knows that," Stevens said Tuesday night. "There's a cloud out there. It'll go away but it has to take time. Alaskans trust me. That's what this vote says. I've trusted them and they trust me."

Stevens was fired up after his easy Republican primary victory, saying he was ready to take on Democrat Begich in the November general election.

"This is not that tough - This is still a Republican state. You think they're going to go for Obama? You think they're going to go with (Sen. Charles) Schumer who's against drilling in the arctic and offshore?... They're voting against any kind of development in alaksa. If you want to send the mayor down to join them, that's not Alaska. That's not the alaska I know. I believe Alaskans know better," he said.

Brian Sprague, who voted for Stevens in the old Boniface Mall building in Anchorage, said Stevens has done a great job for the state.

"Everybody's got a few mistakes in their past ... but I haven't seen anything that he's done that would make me want to vote for somebody else," he said.

Vic Vickers, a recent Florida transplant who put $950,000 of his own money into a campaign to blanket the state with ads promising he'll "stop the corruption," was only pulling in 5.7 percent of the vote in his Republican primary challenge of Stevens.

Developer David Cuddy was running second to Stevens, bringing in about 28 percent of the vote.

Anchorage voter Ray Patterson said Stevens has done a lot of good for Alaska but feels it's time for him to move on. Rather than go for one of Stevens' Republican challengers, he went for Democrat Begich in Tuesday's voting.

"(Begich) kind of seems to be in the middle, and he goes for ANWR, and I just typically tend to vote more that way - people that kind of don't follow one way or the other," he said.

Begich said he doesn't plan to make corruption an issue in the campaign. The trial is "something for him to handle" he said of Stevens.

"I want people walking into voting booths voting for something," Begich said Tuesday night. "I want them to vote for something, and we're going to give them something to vote for."

Berkowitz, the Democrat who will face the Young-Parnell winner in November, watched the returns Tuesday and talked about his strategy for each of his potential opponents.

If he runs against Young:

"I've always said Don Young's done good things for Alaska. It's a question of who's going to be there for the future. And it's a question of who's going to be effective not just today, but five years from now and ten years from now," Berkowitz said.

If it's Parnell?

"I think Alaska needs someone who can fight for Alaska's interest, I think I could be a much more effective fighter than Sean Parnell could be," he said.

Benson, who lost to Berkowitz in the Democratic primary Tuesday night, said she could feel good because her campaign ran an honorable race. So what's next for her?

"I'll be looking for a job, if I don't have this one," Benson said. "Seriously."

Daily News reporters Julia O'Malley, Megan Holland, Wesley Loy, Kyle Hopkins, Elizabeth Bluemink and Erika Bolstad contributed to this story.

Complete election results
SEAN COCKERHAM
scockerham@adn.com