Four state Senate races worth watching

Monday was the final day for candidates to register in Alaska to run in both federal and state races. The U.S. Senate race has gotten the lion’s share of attention so far in the election. But for us Alaskans who live here, send our children to schools here, fish in our waters, buy our birth control here and collect our Permanent Fund Dividends, the state Legislature is as, if not more, important than the U.S. Senate race. (Click here for the chart of all races compiled by legislative staffer Chris Clark.)

In the Alaska state Senate race, 14 seats are up for election. Three of those– Sens. Berta Gardner, Lyman Hoffman and Donnie Olson—Democrats all, are going unchallenged. Some of the primary and general races will be more competitive than others. And although there are sometimes surprises, for now the four Senate races below appear to be the most interesting and/or competitive.

    • Clare Ross (D) v Mia Costello (R) –  Most thought that this West Anchorage seat being vacated by Hollis French was Rep. Mia Costello’s for the taking, even though it does skew Democratic and was one of the few districts in the state where Obama did well in 2012. However, that changed when Clare Ross dropped out of the House race and decided to run for the Senate. It also probably doesn’t help that Costello got involved in the whole minimum wage imbroglio during the last few weeks of session, and in doing so, incurred the wrath of the unions. She also got sideways with many of the advocates for the increase in school funding. Add that to Ross’s aggressive grassroots efforts—she’s relentlessly door knocking– and you’ve got a race on your hands. As of the last APOC reporting period in February, Ross had raised $31, 000 and had $20,000 cash on hand, much of which has come from small donors. Mia Costello runs strong on her side of the Senate district and has raised $68,000 with $50,000.00 cash on hand, according to her last filed APOC report. This general election race is a tossup for now, with slight edge to Costello.
    • Bill Stoltze (R) v DeLena Johnson (R) – This is a new Senate seat created by redistricting that spans from Chugiak to Palmer. DeLena Johnson, who is the mayor of Palmer, was an early entrant to the race and in some ways a protégé of Rep. Bill Stoltze, who has also filed for the seat. Stoltze is the odds on favorite here. He’s got the support of the majority of the Valley delegation, and has big support in the Chugiak side of the district. That said, Johnson is no slouch, and she’s hired Marc Hellenthal who intends to make it a race. For his part, Stoltze has Art Hackney, who won’t take anything for granted. This will be a fun primary to watch. The Republican victor in the primary will take on Democratic educator Patricia Chesbro in the general. This seat is likely to remain Republican.
    • Click Bishop (R) v (R) Mike Miller – Incumbent Fairbanks Sen. Click Bishop defeated Republican National Committeeman Ralph Seekins in what many saw as a huge upset. Bishop is a former union leader and Parnell Palin commissioner of the Department of Labor. Union support is largely credited for Bishop’s win. He still has that support. Further, because of redistricting, this Senate district is very different today and includes parts of Fairbanks and some Bush villages. It’s even better for Bishop, who has worked extensively throughout the Bush over the years and is married to an Alaska Native. That said, we’re talking Republican primary here. And Bishop’s challenger, Mike Miller is a Republican darling. He is a former state senator and GOP lieutenant governor nominee. Miller is part of the well-known North Pole family that owns and operates Santa Claus House, a gift shop “Where every day is Christmas.” His brother, Terry, served in the state legislature, was the senate president and served as Gov. Jay Hammond’s lieutenant governor. The Legislative Affairs Agency building behind the state Capitol building bears his name. Miller, unlike Bishop, will have the establishment and the pro-lifers on his side. Too, Bishop will likely take a beating for his opposition to school choice. Then again, Click has that made-for-campaign-slogan name. Whoever wins the primary will face Democrat Dorothy Shockley in the general. Shockley ran as an independent candidate for House in 2012. It’s likely that this seat will remain Republican.
    • Cathy Giessel (R) v Harry Crawford (D ) – This Senate district, encompassing parts of East Anchorage, the Hillside and Girdwood, is one of the most diverse in the state. These communities are as different as the two candidates themselves. The incumbent, Cathy Giessel, is considered ultra-conservative and is known to be extremely friendly to oil companies and to business. This, sometimes at the expense of the people. Her Democratic challenger, Harry Crawford, is a former legislator. He’s a former ironworker from Louisiana and still carries that state’s accent and some of its friendly, laid-back style. He’s big on unions, and not so much big on the oil industry. Crawford currently sits on the board of directors of Chugach Electric. Both candidates in this race are known to be hard workers and committed campaigners. Many look at Crawford as being somewhat a legend for defeating former Speaker of the House Ramona Barnes, most familiarly called, “Rambona.” To a large degree, Crawford’s chances of success will depend on how much the unions have his back. At this point, I’d give Giessel a slight edge in winning this race. However, don’t write Crawford off.

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2 thoughts on “Four state Senate races worth watching

  1. Suzanne

    Pretty good analysis and perspective. I think you are spot on with Stoltze being the favorite over Johnson. I also believe that Geissel will handily defeat Crawford. Ross will lose to Costello. And Click goes down to Miller. Take it to the bank.

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