Red meat Republican Don Young said he's getting a lot of flak for recently praising Democratic senator Mark Begich for doing a "good job." But the ever-outspoken Young -- to no one's surprise -- won't back down.
In fact, Young expounded on the statement on Wednesday for the first time, saying Alaska's junior senator -- currently embroiled in tough re-election fight -- has performed well on energy issues that are so critical to Alaska.
"I think he's been good in the energy industry, and I think that's smart -- that's where we're getting most of our income in the state," Young said.
One positive thing, Young said, is Begich has not supported any anti-fossil fuels legislation.
Begich has encouraged offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean, said Young. He also has supported drilling in the untapped National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Young is not endorsing a candidate in the race. "If Mark gets reelected, why would I want to come out and knock Mark Begich? If he gets reelected I've got to work with him."
Republicans nationally are targeting Begich, believing him vulnerable in the scarlet-red 49th state as they seek to win control of the Senate. One top competitor is Alaska's Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who has called Begich's energy policies "disastrous."
"The pipeline is running less than one-third full, access to NPR-A has been cut in half, and seismic testing in ANWR is still being halted," says the Treadwell campaign.
Another top Begich opponent, former state Attorney General Dan Sullivan, has blasted Begich for not stopping some fellow Democratic senators who want to halt offshore drilling in the Arctic.
"Sen. Begich went to Washington as an 'independent voice' for Alaska, promising to educate his Democratic colleagues on the importance of responsible resource development in Alaska," especially with ANWR and offshore drilling, Sullivan said in a December statement. "Half a decade later, Sen. Begich continues to stand on the sidelines, with nothing to show Alaskans but empty and unfulfilled promises coupled with far too many press releases."
Young, however, said Begich has worked to build a solid base of support in the state.
"He's followed the example of myself," Young said. "He travels. He's got good constituents, a rapport."
On the downside, Begich has made some bad votes, Young said, namely his support for the "terrible" health care reform package called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
"He's made bad votes, and I will say that right up front, and that's going to be his biggest challenge," Young said.
Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com.