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Democrats in Washington had been paying little attention to Alaska, a state some 3,000 miles from the nation's capital that Bush carried by 31 points in 2000 and that hasn't elected a Democratic Senator in 30 years. But after being elected Governor in 2002, G.O.P. Senator Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter Lisa, 45, a state legislator, to serve out the remaining two years of his Senate term. That sparked a political firestorm. Jerry Sousa, a guide in the tiny village of Talkeetna, summed up the view of many Alaskans: the daughter "seems like she's nice, personable and is doing a great job as Senator. But the way she was appointed was fairly despicable." Meanwhile, the Democrats' candidate, former two-term Governor Tony Knowles, a lanky onetime oil roughneck, is the state's most popular Democrat. He pushes jobs and more benefits for the state's high concentration of veterans but distances himself from John Kerry's opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which most Alaskans support. A poll in May by an Anchorage television station showed Knowles 5 points ahead of Murkowski.
South Carolina is one of the most Republican states in the Union. But G.O.P. Representative Jim DeMint had to fight his way through a six-candidate primary and then a runoff last Tuesday to win his party's nomination for the Senate, while Democrats united early behind Inez Tenenbaum, the state education superintendent. A moderate who has won two statewide elections, Tenenbaum hopes to form a winning coalition of blacks and white-female swing voters. "We are reaching out across party lines and bringing people in," Tenenbaum tells TIME.
Republicans will fight hard to change the odds everywhere Democrats think they have a chance. In states with bruising primaries, the G.O.P. has been holding successful fund raisers to pile up cash that will be dished out to whoever is the winner. Even Democratic stars like Obama will get roughed up. Before his candidacy imploded, Ryan last month had a young campaign worker with a videocam follow Obama (sometimes no more than a few feet away) in hopes of catching him saying something inconsistent with previous statements. After two weeks and a wave of publicity that made Ryan look bad, the cameraman disappeared. "This scorched-earth politics out there today is not getting things done," says Obama. "So what I do is tell a story about what's been lost in the American Dream and how we can recapture that dream." Democrats will be happy if they can just recapture the Senate.