Here are some flying-by-the-seat-of my-pants predictions for what’s going to happen in tomorrow’s primary races. I did not cover all the contested races. I chose the races that were interesting and that I knew something about. These predictions come from various interviews, lots of reading, and checking campaign finance reports. (See the most recent story on the reports here). But mostly, I’m going by gut feelings. Please keep in mind that primary races are tremendously impacted by turnout, unpredictable, and GOP primaries are all the more so. So there’s a good chance that I’m wrong on at least a few of these. Maybe more. Please leave comments with your own predictions and insights.
U.S. Senate GOP primary race: Joe Miller has certainly picked up steam in the final leg of this campaign. Mailers are being dropped. Phones are ringing off the hook. Mike Huckabee’s and Sarah Palin’s voices are floating through the wires. Sign wavers are out in droves. All of which should serve as a lesson to every candidate everywhere about the necessity of keeping something for the end.
Nearly everyone I talked to says that it’s nearly impossible for Miller to win against front-runner Dan Sullivan. But a close second, in front of Mead Treadwell, certainly isn’t out of reach. That’s what I’m going to predict, which I do with a heavy heart. In a state full of knee-jerk Republicans, Treadwell was one of the sane ones before he ran for state office in 2010. He was known for his moderate, deliberative stances on issues, and he might have had a chance had he let Sullivan and Miller duke it out on the right side of the stage, while he captured the middle. As it was, he tried to out-tea party Joe Miller—making abortion illegal in all cases except when the life of a mother AND child are in danger, abolishing the IRS, the Department of Energy, the Department of Education—to name a few. He got more extreme as time went on, and his campaign began to flounder. And as he did so, the more awkward it looked on him. Prediction: Sullivan 1. Miller 2. Treadwell 3.
Lt. Gov.: Democrats Wasilla high school teacher Bob Williams and Alaska state Sen. Hollis French are running for this seat. The winner will join gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott as the number 2 on the ticket. Williams, a new political face, doesn’t lack for enthusiasm and energy. He’s one of a number of bright lights running as a Democrat this season. However, he did seem to lack the kind of cogent campaign strategy that anybody, particularly a new-comer, would need to run for statewide office, especially against French, who is one of the most well-known, well-respected and hardest working Democratic politicians in the state. Prediction: Hollis French wins.
Ballot Measure 1: With more than $10 million spent by the No On 1 committee, this is the most expensive campaign in the state’s history. And yet, it’ll still probably be close. Those who are advocating a “No” vote—against repealing the oil tax bill that gave industry tax breaks at certain prices– will likely win, but probably not by much. The problem? A campaign that was run more like a business meeting than a political campaign. They didn’t have any good slogans. They had no defining theme. In the end, their message boiled down to this: Alaska, give us, the biggest, richest companies in the world tax breaks, and we will help your economy. The commercials, which I heard had to be approved by a committee of oil company executives and engineers, were boring and ineffective. By and large, with the exception of Sen. Lesil McGuire, the legislators who voted for the oil tax break decided they had better things to do than to fight for it. And Gov. Sean Parnell wasn’t much of a help. All of this emboldened the cash-strapped “Yes” crowd, who might still win through sheer determination, through social media and better slogans. However, if the “No” side does win, and the oil tax bill fails to be repealed, the oil companies will have won the battle, but I’d say that they further bruised their image with many Alaskans. Industry will need to pay attention to the PR damage wrought by this fight, and will need to try to reach out and repair it, particularly as the state and the companies enter what are bound to be testy gas tax negotiations. Prediction: No On 1 wins by less than it should given the money that was spent on the campaign.
House District 3: The contested Republican primary in House District 3 in North Pole between Reps. Tammie Wilson and Dough Isaacson will likely be a squeaker. Wilson is said to have a slight edge in the race, mostly because she’s supposedly knocked on more doors and as she’s done so, she carried with her a message of relative pessimism, which apparently plays well in Santa-country. If Wilson wins—which I think she will–she’s not necessarily going to be leadership’s favorite legislator. She’s tough, she asks questions and she’s a she. For that reason, if she’s elected, she has the potential to be a strong voice in the currently flaccid and ineffective women’s caucus. Prediction: Wilson wins.
House District 9
6: In a three-way race, odds are that the incumbent is going to win. In this case, that would be Rep. Eric Feige. But that conventional wisdom has a very real chance of overturning in this race, where Feige is being challenged both on the right and with a frontal assault as well. One of his opponents, George Rauscher has the endorsement of the socially conservative Alaska Family Action. On the other is Jim Colver, who has the most union money of anyone in this race. Also, Colver is walking the snot out of this relatively hard-to-walk district. And he seems amiable while doing it, not necessarily an adjective used to describe Feige. The winner will face Democrat Mabel Wimmer. Prediction: I’m going out on a limb and saying the race will be close, but leaning Colver.
House District 12: This is the Valley House district being vacated by Rep. Bill Stoltze, who’s running for Senate. Cathy Tilton, a former legislative aide, looks as if she might have a slight leg-up against fellow Republican Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Ron Arvin in this race. As far as I can tell, there’s barely an ideological difference between the two. But Tilton’s campaign feels more vibrant than does Arvin’s, and she’s put social media to good use. Also, Tilton’s last minute flyer pointing out that Arvin missed more than half percent of the Mat-Su Assembly meetings last year might have bruised Arvin as well. If she wins, Tilton will also likely be a strong voice for that feeble women’s caucus. Let me say that both would be fine legislators. Prediction: Leaning Tilton.
District F: This is the home to the only contested primary state Senate seat in the state. This new district without an incumbent stretches from Chugiak to Palmer. The two Republican candidates vying for this seat are Rep. Bill Stoltze from Chugiak and Palmer Mayor DeLana Johnson. Most are saying that this race will be a blowout victory for Stoltze. I agree. Every indicator – – endorsements, campaign cash, name identification and effectiveness of campaign reach – – suggests that Stoltze will win by a comfortable margin on primary night. Prediction: Stoltze wins.
House District 21 is the Turnagain/West Anchorage area and is currently held by Rep. Lindsey Holmes, which she won as a Democrat before switching parties and becoming a Republican and has since announced her retirement. It is in play between two Republicans: Anand Dubey and Matt Fagnani. Dubey, a chemical engineer and computer programmer, captured the Republican nomination two years ago and lost to Holmes. While he has not attracted significant financial support, he has proven to be a tireless worker and has developed a computer program that is designed to help him with his door-to-door campaign, voter persuasion and get-out-the-vote effort. Matt Fagnani is making his first bid for elective office. He is currently the executive director of a North Slope training cooperative. From all appearances, Fagnani is the establishment candidate and has gained significant backing from the GOP leadership and their contributors. He has raised significantly more campaign cash than has Dubey. Both candidates have signs up throughout the district. My read is that Dubey has knocked on more doors than Fagnani; but Fagnani had the resources to touch voters through other media sources. This race is a toss-up. The Republican nominee in this district will face an uphill battle against Democrat Matt Claman. Prediction: Toss-up.
House District 32 consists primarily of Kodiak Island and Cordova and is hosting yet another three-way contest for the GOP state house nomination provoked by the retirement of Republican Rep. Alan Austerman. One of the leading candidates for the seat is his daughter, Carol, who serves on the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly.. The two other candidates are Rich Walker, who hasn’t made much of a mark in the race. and Louise Stutes, who I’m told is running neck and neck with Austerman. Until recently, Stutes owned and operated the Village Bar. Her husband is a commercial fisherman and she has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO. Both Austerman and Stutes are Yes on #1, and Austerman recently posted a picture of herself welcoming Mark Begich to Kodiak, which some say won’t play well in a Republican primary. Too, as an Assembly member, Austeman recently voted for the highly controversial ordnance that required the public to be polite when they testified at Assembly meetings. That didn’t go down well in Kodiak. Death threats were issued and police guarded the next Assembly meeting. But mostly, the primary issues in this district are fishing and the community’s concerns over the development of the Pebble mine, about which they both repeat pretty much the same lines. The winner will face Democrat Jerry McCune of Cordova. Prediction: Toss up with a slight edge to Stutes, because Kodiak doesn’t seem like a town that likes family dynasties.
House District 36: Yet another three way race between Chere Klein, Patti Mackey and Agnes Moran, also without an incumbent. The seat opened when Peggy Wilson announced her retirement, and I’ll be darned from this distance if I can figure out what the real ideological differences are. I’ve been told that when you get them in a room, they all toe the Republican line. What it all boils down to is personality and history. Moran was endorsed by Frank and Nancy Murkowski, and according to a trusted source (hey you!), she has some tea party folks on her side. She’s also on the board of the family bank, the First Bank-Ketchikan. While on the Borough Assembly, Moran lead the fight to sue the state over education funding and I’m told that she isn’t always as polite as she could be to the public. Too, her campaign manager isn’t the most beloved character in the community. But all this might do her well as a member of the mythical women’s caucus that I keep envisioning. I’m told that Patti Mackey’s campaign is lacking energy and that Chere Klein, once a dark horse, is emerging in the race. She’s a former staffer to Wilson and appears to have her support. She’s also got connections with the construction industry and the support of John MacKinnon from the Associated General Contractors. Whoever wins will face independent Dan Ortiz, who is doing really well on fundraising and supposedly has signs dotting the island. Prediction: Leaning Klein.
House District 40 which encompasses the North Slope and Northwest Arctic Borough, is currently represented by incumbent Rep. Ben Nageak of Barrow, a rural Democrat who has joined the House majority caucus. He is being challenged by Dean Westlake who is a resident of the Northwest Arctic Borough. Westlake is an employee of NANA Regional Corp. Traditionally, these legislative seats are won based on family-ties, geography and personality. Consequently, the seats tend not to turn over very often. This year, issues seem to be playing a larger role in the campaign than is usually the case. Nageak and Westlake have a strong disagreement on Ballot Measure #1 which would repeal the new oil tax. Nageak voted for the passage of SB 21 and is standing by his vote by taking a No on #1 stand. Westlake is a proponent of repealing SB 21. He has also been critical of Nageak’s support of KABATA which could possibly limit his options organizationally should he win. In the final days of the primary election, the race has become contentious and considered to be close. Westlake has aggressively attacked Nageak’s record. Most political observers feel that the race will be decided between geographical turnout between the two boroughs. Prediction: Toss-up, leaning Nageak because he’s the incumbent.
CORRECTION: Carol Austerman is not a bookkeeper. That’s her sister Dawn. Alan Austerman’s name is not “Allen.”
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