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Big spending pays off in Alaska primary election

Ben Anderson,Amanda CoyneThe New York Times

From Ben Anderson: Big spending against a ballot initiative to reinstate a coastal management program for Alaska appeared to be paying off early as primary election results trickled in from across the state.

The No on 2 campaign – aimed at killing Ballot Measure 2 – managed to raise more than $1.5 million, mostly from the state’s oil and mining industries; supporters of the coastal management initiative managed to raise a fraction of that, with somewhere around $200,000 to spend.

With about 38 percent of precincts reporting, the initiative looked poised for colossal failure, down 2-to-1: 62 percent opposed, 38 percent supporting.

The other big money race in Alaska’s primary was the Republican contest to represent Senate District C in this November’s general election. Three candidates spent in excess of $220,000 – and that’s just in the GOP primary. Click Bishop was handily beating his opponents, former state Sen. Ralph Seekins and tea party activist David Eastman. Bishop held about 54 percent of the vote, Seekins 31 percent, and Eastman 15 percent, with a little more than half of the precincts reporting.

On the House side, the biggest money came from District 26, where three relative newcomers were vying for an open seat. Republicans Kim Skipper and Larry Wood were splitting about 56 percent of the vote , with each candidate racking up less than 30 percent individually. Lora Reinbold was running away with the race with about 44 percent of the vote and 57 percent of the precincts reporting.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com

From Amanda Coyne at Hotel Captain Cook: Republicans met at a private banquet room inside the Hotel Captain Cook in downtown Anchorage to, among other things, hear opening night speeches from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

An open bar along with fried shrimp and fish, however, seemed a greater draw than speechmakers on TV. Those who did listen agreed that Ann Romney, wife of the GOP presidential nominee, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie "nailed it."

Many in the group, however, paid closer attention after the speeches, when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin appeared on the screen. That was in part due to local conservative talk show host David Stieren.

At the appearance of Palin on Fox News afterward, Steieren yelled, "NOOOOOOOO." He proceeded to turn the television off, quite dramatically, and to the resounding applause of many Republicans gathered.

Someone suggested that a round of shots be ordered, quickly, in order to "heal the wound" and try to forget they'd even seen her. 

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com

Sen. Bettye Davis was among early arrivals at Election Central to learn whether she'd be moving on to the general election.

From Ben Anderson at Election Central in downtown Anchorage: A little before 9 p.m., results from around the state began rolling in, and with them came the night's first surprises.

Perhaps the most interesting result thus far was in Senate District M, where Democratic incumbent Bettye Davis faced stiff opposition from former Rep. Harry Crawford in a redrawn district that stretches all the way from East Anchorage to Eagle River. With more than 50 percent of precincts reporting, Crawford was leading Davis 52 percent to 48 percent. 

More: Complete coverage of Alaska Primary Election

Two Republican races were also taking shape in the early part of election returns, as a Matanuska Valley race between Sen. Linda Menard and Mike Dunleavy showed lopsided results early on in favor of the contender. Dunleavy led Menard by about 17 points, but only 11 percent of precincts were reporting and a mere 81 votes separated the two.

Meanwhile, back in Anchorage, incumbent Sen. Lesil McGuire was winning easily, though perhaps less easily than she anticipated, as challenger Jeff Landfield held nearly 43 percent of the vote to McGuire's 57 percent, with about half of the precinct reporting. 

You can follow the live election results at the Division of Elections results page.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com

From Ben Anderson: Low voter turnout was highly likely in Tuesday's primary elections across Alaska. There simply aren't any hyper-controversial ballot measures or major political kerfuffles to lure everyone out on a sunny August day.

In West Anchorage, at the polling station for House District 16, voter turnout is usually high. In fact, this polling place is considered a "supervoter" location. But by 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, fewer than 300 people had cast a ballot here.

"This is the worst we've ever seen it," said Marge Spils, an election worker who says she's worked the poll here for 15 years. In years past, she's seen more than 1,800 people turn out to vote. But for whatever reason, those numbers were much lower Tuesday.

Maybe it was fabulous weather in Anchorage, Alaska's largest city and home to nearly half the state's population. Maybe redistricting contributed to the decline in turnout. Another election worker said that Alaska's new political map nearly cut in half the number of voters in the district.

Another worker just sighed and blamed it on voter apathy, pointing at four people in front of the check-in table. That was the longest line of the day.

"If this is what it's like here, I'd hate to think of the rest of the town," Spils said.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com

From Ben Anderson: As results unfurl in Alaska primary election races Tuesday night, one race to keep an eye on involves Republicans campaigning to represent a big slice of Alaska that nearly spans the length of Alaska's famed oil pipeline. Senate District C stretches from Fairbanks, in the heart of Interior Alaska, all the way to Valdez, terminus of the trans-Alaska pipeline and port city for tankers loading Alaska crude.

So far, more money has been spent on the Republican primary contest for Senate District C than on any other race. The candidates -- Click Bishop, Ralph Seekins and David Eastman -- collectively have raised more than $220,000.

The race features three flavors of Alaska conservatism:

  • Bishop has union ties dating back to his time as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor. He's expressed willingness to join the Senate Bipartisan Majority Working Group, which governs business in the upper chamber of the Alaska Legislature.
  • Seekins is a former state senator who has pledged not to join the bipartisan coalition and who takes a hard line against abortion, opposing the procedure even in cases of incest or rape, or when the mother's life is in danger.
  • Eastman might be the real "odd man out" in the District C race. Eastman has raised far less money than either Bishop or Seekins but his tea party, "self-governance" platform and his geography -- he’s the only candidate from the rural Palmer region of the district -- may win him votes for those who don’t fall into alignment with Bishop’s or Seekins. 

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com

From Amanda Coyne: A primary election race on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula has turned into a nail biter, thought it's gotten little attention across much of the state. Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche is running against incumbent Sen. Tom Wagoner, a Republican who caucuses with the Senate's bipartisan majority. Which way that race will go is anyone's guess.

Both candidates have raised about the same amounts of money: Micciche has gathered $42,800 for his campaign, while the incumbent Wagoner has collected $43,535, although that includes roughly $11,000 that he raised last year. In addition, Wagoner lent $5,000 to his campaign recently.

Both tout high-profile endorsements. Alaska House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, is behind Micciche. And in a surprise move that's got politicos buzzing across Alaska, Gov. Sean Parnell appears to have come out for the incumbent Wagoner. An ad [below] in the Peninsula Clarion shows Parnell and Wagoner side by side.

"I appreciate Tom's leadership," Gov. Parnell is quoted saying in the ad, which goes on to list Wagoner's achievements for Kenai constituents.

It's borderline heresy for a sitting Alaska governor to make an endorsement in a primary challenge within his or her own party. When asked about the apparent endorsement, Parnell spokesperson Sharon Leighow said she can't discuss political races.

Gov. Parnell has said he wants to see the Senate bipartisan majority dismantled, and that he'll work to dismantle it. Wagoner is a member -- albeit reluctantly -- of the much-maligned coalition. Then again, Mayor Micciche is a manager at the ConocoPhillips facility on the Kenai who's running on a platform of standing harder against proposed oil tax breaks than has Wagoner.

Read more on the Micciche-Wagoner race.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com