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Northern Exposure

Searching for Jews in politics sometimes requires looking beyond New York and Florida.

How many of us remember that Linda Lingle, a proud member of the tribe, is governor of Hawaii? (And if that is not exotic enough — she is also a Republican.)

And how many have noticed that in Alaska, Jewish Democrat Ethan Berkowitz is running for governor? Yes, the same seat previously held by Sarah Palin. Berkowitz, who was born in San Francisco, moved to Fairbanks in 1990. He was first elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1996 and later became Minority Leader.

Minority and Democrat are pretty much synonymous in Alaska politics, where the GOP has a stronghold on all key positions. Berkowitz actually came closer than others in trying to break this pattern when he ran for Congress in 2008. Polls indicated it would be a tight race and even gave him a small lead, but eventually voters chose to stick with Republican incumbent Don Young, sending him to his 19th term in Washington. (Read here the Forward’s profile of Berkowitz in the 2008 race.)

Berkowitz bounced back and returned to politics, deciding to run for governor in 2010. The post has been occupied by Republican Sean Parnell ever since Sarah Palin decided she had enough in 2009. Now Parnell, who was Palin’s lieutenant governor, is running for a full term.

Polls have shown Parnell enjoys a comfortable lead above Berkowitz ranging from 10% to 20%. But Alaska analysts did commend Democrat Berkowitz for running strong.

Berkowitz has accused his rival of offering “nothing but political attacks.” To demonstrate that he released an ad showing a bulldozer piling dirt over a TV screen and accusing Parnell of throwing dirt in order to hide his actions as governor. But Berkowitz managed to get into unexpected trouble for this ad. In one of the outtakes posted on YouTube, the bulldozer hits Berkowitz who is wearing no hardhat or protective gear. Local safety experts issued a statement calling the ad “foolish” and warning that people should not stand in close proximity to construction machinery.

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