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Primary Preview: Alaska

The next wave of statewide Democratic and Republican primaries are fast approaching, with 4 days remaining before we’ll know who will represent the parties in their respective state legislatures and the United States Congress. The next state on my list is Alaska, one of the smallest and least competitive states that is a seemingly perpetual safe Republican Party win. Alaska last voted Democrat in 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson defeated Republican Barry Goldwater in a decisive victory with 486 electoral votes. However, the state is trending more liberal, with the margin of victory for Republicans decreasing from 30.9% in 2000 to 14.7% in 2016. Democratic strong candidates in each of the following elections could end up swinging Alaska’s politics more leftward, and eventually flipping the state in the decades to come.

United States Senate

The most important election this November for Alaskans is undoubtedly the United States Senate election. Only 8 senators have ever represented Alaska in the US Senate, with 4 being Democrats and 4 being Republicans. While the state has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of +9R, Democrats have consistently won statewide elections for positions like US Senate and Lt. Governor. The state will not be holding a Republican primary, as no candidate has challenged incumbent Dan Sullivan for the Republican nomination. The other primary held in the state is different from the usual Democratic primary held in other states. The primary is open not only to Democrats but also to Libertarians, Alaskan Independence Party politicians, and Independents, meaning that a Democrat could potentially lose their own spot on the ballot (and likely will).

4 candidates will be on the ballot for August 15th, registered Democrat former Senate candidate Edgar Blatchford, independent former Democrat House candidate Chris Cumings, Alaskan Independence candidate John Howe, and independent commercial fisherman Al Gross. Gross currently leads the endorsement race, receiving endorsements from former presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang, and from organizations such as Planned Parenthood and the Alaska Democratic Party. Gross has not said which party he would caucus with should he win the race against incumbent Dan Sullivan, but he will likely fall under the Democratic label because of his positions on reproductive rights and healthcare. Gross is all but guaranteed to will the nomination, and early hypothetical polling shows him outperforming Joe Biden’s polling numbers, as well as Joe Miller’s 2016 numbers in the state. In a poll taken in early July, Gross was estimated to be behind Dan Sullivan by just 5 points, with 27% of voters still undecided.

Most predictions for Alaska’s Senate seat have rated the race as a likely Republican victory. This rating has been downgraded from a safe Republican seat before Gross lead in the race. Gross is running as an anti-Sullivan candidate, presenting an attractive alternative for voters who would like to see the Trump-loyal senator replaced. The race is very much a fight between a man fighting for local Alaskan interests, and one who is running to remain a rubber stamp for Republican legislation in Congress. Political outsiders such as Gross have been seeing tremendous success throughout the country (see: the president), and Gross has the upper hand on that front. I think that this race will continue to narrow down as we approach November, especially if the Democrats believe in Gross and his chances. National and Local Democrats would jump at the opportunity to unseat a Trump-loyal senator and replace them with an independent that will fight for left-wing policy.

Republican Primary Prediction: Dan Sullivan

Democratic Primary Prediction: Al Gross

Alaskan Independence Primary Prediction: John Howe

United States House

Another interesting election happening in the heart of Republican territory is the Alaskan United States House election. The same Congressman has been representing Alaska’s At-Large Congressional District for 47 years, and he is running for his 25th term this November. The last time Alaskans elected a Democrat to the US House was 1970, when Nick Begich won the seat by more than 10% of the vote. Alaskan politics have shifted heavily to the right since then, and Don Young hasn’t faced a serious challenger to his position since 1992 when he nearly lost the general election to Democrat John Devens. The general election will be run without third-party candidates on the ballot, making the winner of the Republican and Democratic primaries the only candidates to be on the ballot. This is contrary to Alaska norms, where third-party candidates find more success than in any other state.

87-year-old incumbent Don Young faces 2 challengers from his party, those being Gerald Heikes, and businessman Thomas Nelson. Neither candidate has a real chance at dethroning incumbent Don Young; however, Thomas Nelson has built up name recognition by running against Young in the 2018 primary, while Heikes ran against Young in the 2016 primary. Neither candidate received more than 15% of the vote, and Young easily won the election in both years. Voters know that simply dropping a 25-term Congressman isn’t the best strategy to hold the seat in November. Young will almost certainly win this primary and face the winner of the other primary being held.

The other primary being held this week is the Democratic-Independence-Independent primary, in which an independent candidate holds a large advantage over her competitors. Alyse Galvin, educator and nominee for Congress in 2018, is currently destroying her competition for the upcoming primary. She faces former Democratic nominee Bill Hibler and newcomer Ray Tugatuk. Neither candidate has been endorsed by any major political force, unlike Galvin, who has picked up endorsements from numerous Democratic PAC’s for her support of left-wing policy decisions. Should Galvin win the race, she’ll likely caucus with Democrats, giving them a seat in a Republican stronghold. So far this year, 2 polls have been conducted to gauge the competitiveness of this race. Back in June, a poll of ~600 likely voters found that Alyse Galvin was winning the race with 1% of the vote, while a more recent poll of over 1,000 voters showed that Galvin was leading the race with 2% of the vote. Both margins fall well within the margin of error given for both polls, and both have ~15% of voters still remaining undecided. These undecided candidates will decide the election, and as they usually break for the Republican party, we can take this number as a bad sign for Galvin’s campaign. If Galvin can somehow strike a chord with these voters, there will no doubt be enthusiasm from Alaska’s left to vote out the longest-tenured Congressman that is still active today.

Republican Primary Prediction: Don Young

Democratic Primary Prediction: Alyse Galvin

Alaska State Senate (11 Seats)

The Alaska State Senate is the smallest out of all 100 state legislatures across the nation with just 20 seats. 10 of these seats (plus a special election in District M) are up for election this year. Currently, 14 seats are held by the Republican Party, while the Democrats hold the remaining 6 seats. 6 of these seats will be competitive this November, while the rest face no challenge from the opposing party. Only one of the seats is truly competitive this year, the rest are expected to go to either party by at least 7%. In District N, incumbent and president of the Alaska State Senate Cathy Giessel will face either Lynette Hinz or Carl Johnson. In 2016, Giessel carried her seat with just 3% of the vote, and considering recent shifts in Alaskan politics, that race will become only more competitive. In 2018, then-Senate president Pete Kelly was defeated in his election, showing that it wouldn’t be a shock for a Senate president to lose their reelection bid. It should be noted that her challenger wasn’t even affiliated with a major party, making her reelection chances this November look even weaker.

Predicted Republican Districts: B, D, F, L, M, P, R

Predicted Democratic Districts: H, J, N, T

Alaska State House

The Alaska State House will have all 40 seats open for election this year, with the 4 open seats being the highlight of the race. 3 Republicans and 1 Democrat are not running for reelection this cycle, leaving their seats open to challengers from both sides. Before any elections occur this year, the Republican Party controls 22 seats, the Democratic Party controls 15 seats, and 2 seats are occupied by an independent. In some of the open districts, only one party will run a candidate. This is true for just 1 of the open seats, leaving only a singular truly competitive race in District 6. Based on voting history, this should be a safe Republican seat; however, Democrats are running a popular candidate in this race, possibly driving up turnout in their favor. Still, I believe that the Republicans have plenty of votes to counteract this enthusiasm, and will, therefore, win this seat.

Predicted Republican Districts: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32

Predicted Democratic Districts: 4, 5, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 33, 34, 35, 38, 39, 40

Predicted Independent Districts: 36, 37

Final Predictions

U.S. Senate – Dan Sullivan

U.S. House – Don Young

Alaska Senate – 13R, 7D

Alaska House – 23R, 15D, 2I

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