Alaska House race TV ads intensify

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Decision 2016 Logo(KALB)
Published: Oct. 3, 2016 at 1:01 AM AKDT
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A controversial speech Alaska's longtime congressman made two years ago to a group of high school students is back in the spotlight in a new television advertisement that will air statewide in the month leading to Election Day.

The spot is just the latest in conflicting efforts to draw attention to vastly different aspects of U.S. Rep. Don Young's record.

Days after a Wasilla High School student committed suicide in 2014, Young spoke to a group of kids gathered in the school's theater. Zach Grier, a student at the time, was one of a few who brought up the tragic death during a Q-and-A session with the longest-serving House Republican.

"When we asked if there was anything he could do to help students with depression, first he blamed us for our friend's death. Then he mocked us," Grier recalls in a new ad for the Democratic House nominee, Steve Lindbeck, a former media executive. Grier's account matches with news reports from the time of the incident.

Young offered an apology for his comments when contacted by KTUU on Sunday.

"Congressman Young has offered his profound and genuine apology for the pain he caused that day and continues to make suicide and mental health issues a top priority in Congress," campaign manager Jerry Hood said in a written statement.

Lindbeck has taken other shots at Young in ads, including questioning the influence of some of his financial backers.

Hood said Lindbeck's overall focus has been negative and driving discussion away from substantive issues. "One thing is clear for our opponent’s campaign: when you can’t stand on the issues, you stand in the gutter," the campaign manager said.

Young has maintained a positive focus in his TV ads so far, including one hitting the airwaves frequently right now. "Don Young remains one of the most effective lawmakers in Congress today because he reaches across party lines to find solutions," a narrator says in the ad, which features him working alongside GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. It's important that we ignore the campaign rhetoric and political theater."

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Young has raised $760,000 this election cycle and had half a million to spend as of July 27, the most recent filings. Lindbeck had raised $471,000, with $317,000 on hand. (New campaign finance information will be available mid-October.)

Federal filings show that each campaign has recently been spending tens of thousands of dollars each week to push out their respective narratives: one arguing that the congressman's experience makes him uniquely capable of speaking for Alaskans in Congress, the other that his personality is costing the state.

Time will tell if the challenger's approach leads to any different ending than Young's past 22 general election opponents.