With Friday's filing deadline for state elections coming up fast, it's looking like a Republican vs. Republican world.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Republicans had committed to battle one another in the August primary for six of 19 state Senate seats and 11 of 40 House posts up for election this year.
Some of the candidates are still in the process of being certified to make sure they meet age and residency requirements.
So far, only two Democratic primary contests are certain, and one involves a Democratic incumbent, Neal Foster of Nome, who aligns with the House Republican majority in the Legislature. Former House member Woodie Salmon of Chalkyitsik is challenging him. Assembly member Harriet Drummond is running for an open Midtown Anchorage House seat that already has attracted one other Democrat and two Republicans.
Others could still sign up to run. State elections director Gail Fenumiai said the number of candidates who have filed the paperwork is growing daily. There could be a mad rush on Friday.
Three sitting Republican senators -- Lesil McGuire and Cathy Giessel of Anchorage and Linda Menard of Wasilla -- and have drawn primary challengers, and a fourth, Tom Wagoner of Kenai, said he expects a run at his seat by Soldotna Mayor Peter Micchiche.
"The Republican Party has a habit of shooting itself in the foot every time we turn around," Wagoner said. "I'm sure there are going to be Republicans contesting Republicans. It doesn't make much sense, but that's the way it happens."
In the House, seven Republicans running for re-election have opposition from within their party. Two, Peggy Wilson of Wrangell and Kyle Johansen of Ketchikan, are now in the same Southeast district, and two other Republicans want their jobs. Others House members facing primary challenges are newly appointed Palmer Rep. Shelley Hughes, Dan Saddler of Eagle River, Mia Costello of Anchorage, Kurt Olson of Soldotna and Paul Seaton of Homer.
Almost the entire Legislature is up for re-election this year. New legislative boundaries were drawn to reflect population shifts over the last decade, and most districts changed remarkably. Only Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, is spared from running.
Randy Ruedrich, Alaska Republican Party chairman, is trying to engineer a Republican takeover of the state Senate in the November general election, and has been recruiting candidates for months. Both parties were still working on luring candidates this week.
He said Alaskans shouldn't make too much out of the large number of contested Republican primaries.
"We have more people," he said.
State figures show more than 133,000 registered Republicans, compared to about 72,000 registered Democrats. Still, 260,000 of Alaska voters are not registered with any party -- they are either non-partisan, or don't want to say publicly, according to the state Division of Elections.
ENDING A COALITION
For years, the Senate has been ruled by a bipartisan coalition that currently includes six Republicans and 10 Democrats. Four other Republicans, including Giessel, have refused to join it.
"The Senate should never have been 10-10," Ruedrich said. Before districts were reworked 10 years ago, there were 14 Republicans and six Democrats in the Senate, and the state has gotten more Republican since then, he said. But the last redistricting board, with three Democrats and two Republicans, gave the Democrats a boost, he said. This time, the board had four Republicans and one Democrat.
Both Menard and McGuire are being targeted for joining the bipartisan coalition, their primary challengers say. Most of those trying to win primary races against GOP incumbents are portraying themselves as more conservative, said Andrew Halcro, a former House member who considered a run for Senate this time but opted not to.
Mike Dunleavy, the Mat-Su School Board president who is running against Menard, says the district has much new territory, losing Wasilla proper but gaining a rural swath stretching north to the Talkeetna Mountains. It no longer really belongs to Menard, he said. He considers himself a Tea Party candidate.
On his campaign web site, Dunleavy boasts, "I'm a crack shot with my .338," "I hunt from my horses" and "I'm unabashedly conservative."
He already has the Alaska Right to Life endorsement, something Menard has received in the past. But key Democrats in the bipartisan coalition stand in the way of any anti-abortion legislation, he said.
First-time candidate Jeff Landfield, a Ron Paul supporter who works for an information technology consulting business, is going after McGuire's seat in South Anchorage. The Senate coalition didn't go along with huge tax breaks for the oil industry supported by the House and the governor, and it didn't approve a bill intended to move along an in-state gas line project, he noted.
"Nothing got done," Landfield said.
Neither Menard nor McGuire returned calls.
'ALL THE POWER'
Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat whose district includes downtown, defends the bi-partisan coalition.
"It's up to the public to decide if they want to take a hard right turn and give one political party, and one industry, all the power in state government," Ellis, who has served as Rules Committee chair, said recently. "People might live to regret that if they go that far."
The governor's oil tax proposal would cost the state $2 billion a year, with no guarantee of boosted oil production as a result, Ellis said.
Another Republican candidate, former Anchorage Assemblyman Bob Bell, said he was recruited by Ruedrich and Alaska business leaders to run against Democratic Sen. Hollis French in West Anchorage. Another Republican in that race is former Chugach Electric Association chair Liz Vazquez.
Ruedrich said French's seat is within reach for Republicans.
"That district is very different because Hollis, instead of having Spenard, now has Sand Lake," Ruedrich said. Spenard is funky and relatively liberal. Sand Lake is more affluent and conservative.
French said in an e-mail he used to live in Sand Lake and will work hard to win over its voters.
"I expect to spend the summer and fall getting reacquainted with the folks there," French said.
As to the criticism that the Senate coalition blocked the oil tax cut proposals, French wrote in his e-mail "candidates advocating for a giveaway like the Governor's bill will have a hard time. I think this new district will like the fact I worked twelve years in the oil industry." French, a former state prosecutor, worked as an oil production operator.
HISTORY OF UPSETS
The Republican Party also is eying the seat held by Democrat Bettye Davis, who has represented East Anchorage in the Senate since 2000 and before that was in the House. Her new district brings in parts of Eagle River and the military bases, which are more conservative. Rep. Anna Fairclough, a Republican from Eagle River with a knack for knocking out incumbents, is running against her. Fairclough beat former House Speaker Pete Kott in 2006 to win her first state race and ousted incumbent Ted Carlson to get on the Anchorage Assembly before that.
Efforts to reach Davis this week were unsuccessful.
Democrats have hopes of winning an open Midtown Senate seat. State Rep. Berta Gardner is giving up her House post to run for it.
Two Republicans, Anchorage School Board member and former assemblyman Don Smith and first-time candidate Clint Hess, an Alaska USA Federal Credit Union financial manager, are squaring off in the primary for the chance to take her on.
Reach Lisa Demer at email@example.com or 257-4390.