Alaska GOP presidential preference poll part of Super Tuesday

Becky BohrerAssociated Press

Twenty-four delegates are up for grabs in this week's Republican presidential preference poll in Alaska.

All four of the party's major candidates -- Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich -- will be competing in a race Romney won four years ago. Only registered Republicans, or Alaskans who register as Republicans at the site, can participate in the poll.

Allocation of delegates Tuesday will be proportional. Alaska has three additional delegates -- state party leaders, who will attend the national convention as unpledged -- bringing Alaska's overall delegate total to 27.

Alaska is one of 10 states holding contests on Super Tuesday.

For candidates, the state is also remote, difficult to travel to, and its delegate count is among the lowest of states with caucuses or primaries Tuesday. Still, Paul planned events in Fairbanks and Anchorage on Sunday. One of Romney's sons held several events in the state last month. Gingrich last week participated in an energy-centric conference call organized by the nonpartisan Consumer Energy Alliance-Alaska; the group also organized a call with Santorum Saturday. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that Santorum also has done radio appearances.

Paul's national press secretary, Gary Howard, said the campaign is running an ad in the state and has been organizing. He said the campaign, which finished third here in 2008, is hoping for a "strong finish."

Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said the campaign hopes to "do as well as possible in Alaska and win delegates there."

"In the closing days we will continue to work to get our message out that Mitt Romney is exactly what our country needs right now, a conservative businessman who will cut spending, create jobs, and get our nation back on track," she said. She did not say how the campaign planned to do that.

Romney's leadership team in the state features several prominent Alaska Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

The year 2008 was the first that the state held a preference poll, which party chairman Randy Ruedrich said is similar to any other polling site in that one goes in, casts a ballot for a choice and leaves. Voters can also choose "unpledged." Unpledged would need at least 4 percent of the vote cast to win a delegate, he said.

Less than 14,000 Republicans voted in the 2008 poll, more than twice the turnout the party expected, Ruedrich said. The party, on its website, urges people to bring their friends and family to polling sites to "set a new record." Interest, Ruedrich said, has been high, either among those wanting to help with the polls or just more know about them.

Lawmakers in Juneau for the legislative session expect they will be able to participate at local polling sites after working hours rather than having to return home. Polling is to take place from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Ruedrich, who has not announced an endorsement, said he expects the party's eventual nominee will finish first or second in Alaska. McCain, the nominee in 2008, finished last among candidates here that year.

"I think it's very likely to have a better nominee than we had four years ago and one definitely one that's more in sync with Alaska," he said.

According to the state Division of Elections, there are about 131,600 registered Republicans in Alaska.

Frank Bettine, a director with the Wasilla-based Conservative Patriots Group, wasn't enthused about any of the candidates. "I guess we've got what we got," he said in an interview.

The Conservative Patriots Group was born of frustration with the Republican party and a desire, Bettine said, to elect candidates who follow conservative, constitutional principles. The GOP has a great platform, he said, but "no one follows it."

The group, which Bettine said is growing in number, hasn't endorsed anyone and hasn't yet decided whether it will.

Bettine said he would like to hear the candidates debate the issues, not attack each other. The economy is the most important issue to him but he said somehow that and other concerns, like runaway spending in Washington, have gotten lost.

He pointed to the recent debate over an Obama administration directive that employers provide contraception coverage to workers regardless of religious or ethical concerns. Bettine said he would prefer the candidates approach the issue from a constitutional standpoint as opposed to just their personal beliefs on it.


GOP presidential preference poll locations.

Associated Press