ANCHORAGE — Republicans are lagging behind the fundraising of their opponents in most of the competitive races that will determine the make-up of next year's Alaska Senate.
The strong showing by five Democrats and one independent in raising money for ads, flyers, polls and other campaign activities was evident in the final full financial reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission on Tuesday.
The reports showed that only Sen. Bettye Davis, an incumbent Democrat redistricted into heavily Republican Eagle River, was significantly behind the fundraising of her opponent, Rep. Anna Fairclough.
Sen. Hollis French, an Anchorage Democrat, held the largest lead of anyone, $78,000 over Republican challenger Bob Bell, a former city assemblyman.
Independent Ron Devon, running against Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel in a district stretching from the Anchorage Hillside to Nikiski, overcame Giessel's $10,000 advantage of three weeks ago and is now nearly $6,000 ahead. While he got $6,275 from labor unions and their leaders, most of the donations were in small amounts from retired people, the medical profession, attorneys and other individuals.
Money is one of many factors in a successful race; even the best candidate message would be a whisper without it.
At the same time, contributions given directly to candidates are only part of the money picture. The political parties and business- and union-backed independent political action committees have been active, too. Though most file reports with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, their activities and fundraising are often dispersed over many candidates and issues, so they're harder to measure than direct contributions to candidate campaigns.
The make-up of the Senate is proving to be the big state issue of 2012. For the last four years, the Senate has been split 10-10 between Democrats and Republicans, so the upper chamber has been governed by a coalition tilted toward Democrats. The coalition blocked Gov. Sean Parnell's bid to reduce oil taxes without requiring more production and it avoided contentious social issues sought by House members or the four-member Senate minority, of which Giessel was a part.
Redistricting has all but dashed Democratic hopes of maintaining their 10 seats. But they believe that if they keep eight seats, they might be able to push through another coalition and prevent Republicans from a clean sweep of the Senate, House and governor's office.
In addition to Davis-Fairclough, French-Bell and Giessel-Devon, Rep. Berta Gardner has a $42,000 advantage over school board member Don Smith in District H; and in District G, Sen. Bill Wielechowski is up $33,000 on former Anchorage teacher union chief Bob Roses.
In Fairbanks, Democrat Sen. Joe Thomas, redistricted into the same Republican-heavy district as Republican Sen. John Coghill, has a $34,000 fundraising edge. Sen. Joe Paskvan, a Democrat going up against former Rep. Pete Kelly, a Republican, has about $21,000 more than his opponent.
Democrats get a significant portion of their money from labor, attorneys and public-sector workers. Republicans tap the oil industry, mining, business and social conservatives. But contributors from any of the groups will occasionally cross party lines.
Democrats this year are tapping into concern over oil taxes, said Kay Brown, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party.
"I think it shows we have a message that's resonating with Alaskans and people are stepping up because they want to keep balance in our government," Brown said. "They appreciate the leadership of these Democratic senators and they want to keep the bipartisan coalition going in Juneau."
Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska, said the fundraising advantage could, in part, reflect desperation on the part of Democrats.
"The Democrats cannot afford to lose a race so they have raised funds unmercifully -- they've gone after their donor base with a much higher level of intensity than the Republicans have," Ruedrich said, asserting that the Democrats owed their previous strength to the redistricting. "For them, to lose means losing the relevance that they gained over the 10 years that they had their redistricting plan on the table. We were 15-5 before and they're doing whatever they can to make sure they don't get back to 15-5 again."
Brown said she's bracing for the final weekend before the election, a time when attack ads sometimes emerge from shadowy third-party groups.
"There may be others we won't know about until we see what unfolds today and over tomorrow in the mail and on the airwaves," she said. "We're right in the thick of it now."
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.