ANCHORAGE — As Democrats prepare to choose their contender for U.S. Senate in Tuesday's election, let's look at the tale of the tape for the main challengers:
In this corner: Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, who has raised $1.8 million in campaign donations. He has roughly a dozen paid staffers, an army of volunteers and the blessing of national Democrats anxious to see him in a November title fight against incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Stevens.
Considered a lock in Tuesday's election by pollsters, his reach includes countless campaign commercials and statewide name recognition.
And in this corner: Ray Metcalfe, a former two-term Republican legislator and self-appointed corruption watchdog who has raised about $20,000. He started his own Republican Moderate Party before switching to the Democratic ticket and has no paid campaign staff.
His reach includes as many people as he can fit on a shuttle bus he bought for $2,500 and uses to offer a three-hour tour of Anchorage corruption.
If it sounds like a lopsided contest, it is.
Begich has essentially been running against Stevens, now indicted on felony counts of failing to report gifts and home repairs from Veco, for many months. One Begich television ad shows politicians getting scrubbed clean in a car wash. "Every Senator and their spouse should detail every nickel of their income," Begich says in the clip.
Over in the Republican Senate primary, Stevens faces six challengers, including newcomer Vic Vickers who has pledged to spend $1 million on his campaign.
Begich faces only frequent candidate and self-described "anti-fascist" Frank Vonderzaar, and Metcalfe, who has become the mayor's chief critic. Considered a bulldog by fans and a broken record by others, Metcalfe wrote in a Daily News candidate survey that his past attempts to win public office are "too numerous to mention as I have frequently used candidacy as a platform to expose corruption."
That means Metcalfe may not win many elections, but running against him isn't much fun.
He complains city parking officials gave special favors to a local developer through a parking deal, and spent his air time at a recent public television debate looking to corner Begich on details of what he considers a crooked real estate deal.
"If I'm elected to U.S. Senate, I will do what I have always done, I will bring light and ethics to government," he told the cameras.
Begich, in turn, says Metcalfe's claims are false and simply political ploys to get attention for his long-shot campaign.
"It's more about tearing down people than what Alaskans are interested in, Alaska families are interested in, and that's laying out what you're going to do to make a difference," Begich said.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Metcalfe held court before a weekly meeting of the Bartlett Democratic Club, a group of mostly retired, old-school Anchorage Democrats at an east side Denny's.
Described as an "agent of change" on the group's calendar, he began his speech by holding up a copy of a recent newspaper. The headline: "Stevens indicted."
"I think the last time I was here, I suggested that this was going to happen and a lot of people were quite skeptical," Metcalfe said before laying into the corruption case against Stevens. It was a welcome message at the club -- which is named after one of the few Democrats to represent Alaska in the Senate since Stevens took office 40 years ago.
Then Metcalfe switched targets, accusing Begich of wrongdoing, too. As he talked, the diners leafed through paperwork Metcalfe had placed among the silverware and coffee cups -- news stories and lease agreements, government memos and maps.
A commercial real estate broker, Metcalfe served in the state House from 1978 to 1982. Except for an unsuccessful bid for Anchorage school board, he's most recently run for U.S. House in 2006, losing in the Democratic primary.
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