ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich wants Alaskans to know he is one of them and an independent voice against President Barack Obama.
So he's opening campaign offices in far-flung places like a coin-operated laundry in Dillingham, a hamlet of 2,000 people. He's allowed himself to be videotaped strutting his stuff at the Athabascan Fiddlers' dance in Fairbanks. And as anyone with a television knows, he rode a snowmobile in subzero temperatures in the Arctic, speaking into a camera about fighting the Obama administration to help secure offshore drilling permits.
The two-pronged message puts the freshman senator in a unique position to benefit from this conservative state's strong nonpartisan streak, despite its overwhelming votes against Obama in 2008 and 2012. For many voters, going with the person they know and trust matters far more than party labels.
"The national policies are important," said Bill Popp, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and a longtime friend of Begich. "But the ground game of how you take care of constituents' needs in the state will be much more important."
Begich knows this. His campaign motto is "True Alaska" and, despite holding a leadership position in the Senate Democratic conference, he has worked to cast himself as independent voice. To defeat him, Republicans will have to convince voters that it's bad for the country for Democrats to control the Senate — the GOP needs to net six seats to win control of the chamber — but also that Begich is bad for Alaska.
The Republican National Committee, which has established a field presence here, is seeking to cast the race as a referendum on Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Dan Sullivan, who won the Republican Senate nomination in Tuesday's primary, called Begich a "loyal lieutenant" to Reid.
While Republicans battled it out in a three-way primary, Begich — who faced no real opposition — spent the past eight months solidifying what was already a well-polished image as a native son, talking up his accomplishments and touting his deep roots. In Anchorage, where he grew up and once served in the assembly and as mayor, his campaign signs sat in some yards next to the independent candidate for governor and those supportive of oil tax cuts put in place by the Republican-controlled state Legislature last year. Some people still remember his days as a property manager, when he would show up at all hours to fix leaky toilets.
"Let's not get caught up in the D.C. trap of Democrats versus Republicans," he said in an interview. "When you're in Alaska it's about what's important for Alaska."
Begich will soon have 13 field offices in the state, including in communities that his campaign said have never had them before, like Barrow, billed as the northern most city in the United States, and Dillingham, where people have P.O. boxes for addresses. Having support in rural Alaska is seen as critical to running a successful statewide race, particularly one that's expected to be tight.
He says that establishing an office sends a message: "Look, you are part of this campaign. We need your help. I need your support. I need your time."
Growing up, Begich wanted nothing to do with politics, which he blamed for his father's death. Nick Begich was Alaska's lone congressman when the plane carrying him and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, D-La., vanished en route to Juneau in 1972. Mark was 10. As he watched his mother raise the family's six children, Mark Begich decided he wanted to go into business. In high school he opened a popular, alcohol-free Anchorage nightclub called The Motherlode.
He was drawn into his first run for office, a seat in the Anchorage Assembly, because he was tired of excuses for why roads in his neighborhood weren't paved.
Looking back, stories he heard about his dad — later featured prominently in a poignant campaign ad — influenced his decision to venture into politics, he said.
He served as mayor of Alaska's largest city for nearly six years. In 2008, at the height of the Obama wave, Begich eked out a win over longtime Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, who had been convicted on federal corruption charges days before the election. The charges were later overturned, fueling Republican anger that the party was robbed of the seat.
In Washington, Begich joined the Democratic Party's Senate leadership team — he is the fifth-ranking Democratic senator — and voted with his party to approve Obama's health care overhaul. But he opposed Democratic pushes for expanded gun sale background checks and his party's support for keeping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off-limits to oil and gas drilling.
While he landed a coveted spot on the Senate Appropriations Committee, his critics say he hasn't used his influence enough to help Alaska.
"Tell me how having a Democrat in the Senate, working with a Democrat administration, has benefited the state of Alaska," Alaska's senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, said in vowing to help get a Republican elected. "I've yet to see it."
Murkowski, who just last month said she and Begich often agree on Alaska-related issues, came out hard against Begich on Monday.
"I think it's critically important that we reform the Senate, and you can best reform the Senate by change in leadership," she said.
Begich, the first Democratic senator to represent Alaska in nearly three decades, said who runs the Senate is not what Alaskans care about. Instead, he said, voters care about efforts like fighting to save a subsidized mail system to ship items from the Lower 48 states. They want to see their senators trying to stem rising seawaters that threaten coastal villages. And they want community projects, like a hospital in Nome that benefited from the federal stimulus package he supported.
He refused to take down an ad touting his bipartisan work with Murkowski, in spite of her demands that he do so.
Norma Wadsworth, a Begich volunteer within the Hispanic community, has in the past supported Murkowski. She thinks Murkowski and Begich make a great team.
"We're loyal to Sen. Begich because we believe that he has done a good job for the Alaskan people. And that's No. 1," she said at a recent Begich event. "And then, he's an Alaskan."
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Authorities identified two people killed when a helicopter crashed in western Alabama as 63-year-old David Carson of Tuscaloosa; and 51-year-old Matthew Wallace of Hiram, Georgia.
Tuscaloosa County Metro Homicide Unit commander Sgt. Dale Phillips said Wallace worked for a private company contracted to work with Alabama Power. WSB-TV reports that Wallace, a pilot, worked at the Atlanta station as a helicopter operator from 1997 to 2003.
The Tuscaloosa News reports that Carson was an Alabama Power employee.
Phillips said the men were conducting maintenance on a high-voltage power line when the crash happened around 10:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the chopper went down about 20 miles northeast of Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa County Chief Deputy Ron Abernathy said the crash site was in a heavily wooded area.
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Security forces blocked off a seaside slum in Liberia's capital Wednesday, stepping up the government's fight to stop the spread of Ebola, unnerving residents and reportedly sparking a protest.
In central Monrovia there were few cars or people about as nervous residents stayed inside after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered West Point sealed off and imposed a nighttime curfew, saying that authorities have not been able to curtail the spread of Ebola in the face of defiance of their recommendations.
Sirleaf also ordered gathering places like movie theaters and night clubs shut and put Dolo Town, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the capital, under quarantine as well.
"These measures are meant to save lives," she said in an address Tuesday night.
Ebola has killed at least 1,229 of the more than 2,200 people it has sickened in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the outbreak, according to World Health Organizations figures. Liberia has the highest death toll and its number of cases is rising the fastest.
Fear and tension are running high in the capital, especially in places like West Point where there is substantial mistrust of authority. Dead bodies are dumped daily in the streets by relatives who fear infection. Fearful residents call a government hotline to ask that they be removed, but they sometimes remain outside for hours or days.
On Wednesday, riot police and soldiers deployed to block anyone from entering or leaving West Point, which occupies a peninsula where the Mesurado River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Few roads go into the area, and major road runs along the base of the peninsula, serving as a barrier between the neighborhood and the rest of Monrovia. A coast guard boat was also patrolling the waters around the kilometer (.6 mile)-long peninsula.
A woman who called into a local radio station's breakfast program said she was blocked in traffic because there was a protest in West Point by disgruntled youths opposed to the quarantine.
Residents of the slum looted an Ebola screening center over the weekend, accusing the government of bringing sick people from all over the city to their neighborhood.
While Sirleaf blamed the disease's continued spread on people who have hidden the sick or defied orders against touching dead bodies, many Liberians feel their government isn't doing enough to protect them from the dreaded disease.
One resident, Richard Kieh, told The Associated Press by phone that the community was in "disarray" following the arrival of forces on Wednesday morning.
"Prices of things have been doubled here," he said.
The current outbreak is currently the most severe in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the U.N. health agency said that there were encouraging signs that the tide was beginning to turn in Guinea. There is also hope that Nigeria has managed to contain the disease to only a few cases
Nigeria's health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person had died of the disease in that country. All of Nigeria's reported cases so far have been people who had direct contact with a Liberian-American man who was already infected when he arrived in the country on an airliner.
Associated Press writer Maram Mazen in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Control of the Senate could lie in the fortunes of female candidates and the deep-pocketed donors, like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who are sending piles of cash their way.
So far this election cycle, donors have handed over $46 million to a collection of political committees and candidates linked to Emily's List, which backs female contenders who support abortion rights. The Emily's List network of committees raised more than most other outside groups, including the GOP-backed American Crossroads and the anti-tax Club for Growth.
According to campaign finance documents filed Tuesday, one of the newest benefactors for Emily's List was Bloomberg. The billionaire former mayor wrote a $2 million check last month to Women Vote, the super PAC run by the group.
The check put the mayor's giving to all super PACs this cycle at $11 million, and Bloomberg's total tally was likely to grow ahead of a Wednesday deadline for many groups to disclose their July fundraising.
But Bloomberg's donations reflect just how tight the contest to control the Senate next year is shaping up to be — and why women could be a decisive force behind Democratic efforts to defend their Senate majority.
It's why the Emily's List machine collected almost $6 million in July for campaign committees and candidates, according to a review of its tallies for state and federal fundraising efforts.
Republicans need to pick up six seats in the Senate to grab control. If they do, President Barack Obama would face the final two years of his presidency fighting a GOP-led Senate and a House that is expected to remain in Republican hands.
Female Senate contenders might have outsized sway in determining how Obama spends the balance of his time in office.
Among the races that are set to determine which political party controls the agenda in the Senate, incumbent Democratic senators Kay Hagan in North Carolina and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire face heavy outside spending but have Emily's List backing. A third endangered Democrat, Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, chose not to seek Emily's List aid.
At the same time, Democrats are bullish on the prospects for tipping Georgia's open Senate seat in their favor, with Michelle Nunn as the nominee. The Democratic candidate in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, also has posted strong fundraising numbers and has captured her party's interest. Both seats are currently in Republican hands.
"Democratic women have been at the forefront on every major issue and not only are Americans impressed, they are ready to send them reinforcements," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said. "We continue to see momentum growing for women's leadership in this country."
The group is also backing candidates at other levels, from gubernatorial contender Mary Burke in Wisconsin to state legislature hopefuls across the country.
Republican groups, such as the anti-abortion rights Susan B. Anthony List and its affiliates, have been building their fundraising and volunteer lists in recent years. But their impact is far outpaced.
Emily's List, which was founded 29 years ago, has now raised more than $406 million to help women find their way to office, officials said. Of that, more than $100 million was in coordinated direct giving to candidates.
Roughly a third of the Emily's List haul has been since Schriock took the reins of the group in 2009, according to a review of its financial summaries.
"After 29 years, the work we've done to elect women leaders is clear," Schriock said, "and we're not stopping anytime soon."
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks were mostly unchanged in early trading Wednesday as investors awaited the release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting. Lowe's, the home improvement retail chain, fell after the company's outlook came in short of investors' expectations.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was down six points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 16,912 as of 10:03 a.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell two points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,980 and the Nasdaq composite lost eight points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,519.
NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: While Lowe's did report a 10 percent rise in second-quarter profits, investors were more concerned about the company's forecast for the rest of the year. Lowe's cut its sales growth forecast for the year to 4.5 percent from 5 percent. That's a contrast with Home Depot, which raised its full-year outlook when it reported results Tuesday. Lowe's fell $1.37, or 3 percent, to $50.16.
RATE INCREASES: Many analysts predict the Fed will start raising its key interest rate sometime in 2015. Besides the release of its meeting minutes at 2:00 p.m. Eastern today, investors are also waiting on a speech later this week by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.
PUPPY IN THE WINDOW: PetSmart rose $1.30, or 2 percent, to $71.00 after the company said it was exploring a possible sale of the company. The pet supply retailer had been under pressure from activist investors to explore a possible sale, or to do a major restructuring.
ENERGY, BONDS: Benchmark U.S. crude for September delivery rose 46 cents to $93.32 a barrel New York. It dropped sharply Tuesday and was down nearly 4 percent for August due to abundant supplies. Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.42 percent.
FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Police and protesters in Ferguson were finally able to share the streets again at night, putting aside for at least a few hours some of the hostility that had filled those hours with tear gas and smoke.
The St. Louis suburb still had plenty of lively protest Tuesday over the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown. And tensions rose briefly when someone hurled a bottle at officers.
But the overall scene was more subdued than the past five nights, with smaller crowds, fewer confrontations and no tear gas. Police said they still made 47 arrests, mainly of people who defied orders to disperse.
The slight easing of tensions came the day before Attorney General Eric Holder was to visit Ferguson to meet with FBI and other officials carrying out an independent federal investigation into Brown's death.
In a letter published late Tuesday on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website, Holder promised a thorough investigation while calling for an end to the violence in Ferguson. He said the bond of trust between law enforcement and the public is "all-important" but also "fragile."
Arrest patterns "must not lead to disparate treatment under the law, even if such treatment is unintended. And police forces should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve," Holder wrote.
He said the Justice Department would "defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate and for the media to cover a story that must be told."
The department has mounted an unusually swift and aggressive response to Brown's death, from conducting an independent autopsy to sending dozens of FBI agents to Ferguson in search of witnesses to the shooting.
A grand jury also could begin hearing evidence Wednesday to determine whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged in Brown's death, said Ed Magee, spokesman for St. Louis County's prosecuting attorney.
Wilson was recognized during a Ferguson City Council meeting in February, getting special recognition for what Police Chief Thomas Jackson said then was his role in responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle, then struggling with the driver and detaining him until help arrived. Jackson said the suspect was preparing a large quantity of marijuana for sale.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday that he would not seek the removal of the prosecutor overseeing the investigation into Brown's death.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch's deep family connections to police have been cited by some black leaders who question his ability to be impartial. McCulloch's father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.
Nixon said he would not ask McCulloch to leave the case, citing the "well-established process" by which prosecutors can recuse themselves from pending investigations to make way for a special prosecutor.
Departing from that process, Nixon said in a statement, "could unnecessarily inject legal uncertainty into this matter and potentially jeopardize the prosecution."
McCulloch, a Democrat, was elected in 1991 and has earned a reputation for being tough on crime.
Ferguson city leaders said the mayor, the City Council and municipal employees have been exploring ways to increase the number of African-American applicants to the law enforcement academy, develop incentive programs to encourage city residency for police officers and raise money for cameras that would be attached to patrol car dashboards and officers' vests.
"We plan to learn from this tragedy, as we further provide for the safety of our residents and businesses and progress our community through reconciliation and healing," officials said in a public statement.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown's family, said the 18-year-old's funeral and memorial service would be Monday. The time and location had not been finalized.
Associated Press writers Alan Scher Zagier in Ferguson, Jim Salter in St. Louis and David A. Lieb in Jefferson City contributed to this report.