Eleven candidates for the Alaska Legislature withdrew before Monday’s deadline, finalizing who will appear on the general election ballot and run for control of the state House of Representatives and Senate.
One of those candidates to withdraw was Anchorage Republican Lisa Simpson, who faces unique pressures. She was charged with three felonies two years ago for voter misconduct. But that’s not why she dropped out, she said, instead pointing to her concerns that the GOP vote could be split under new ranked choice voting and the Democrat in the race could win.
Simpson finished third in the primary election for an open northeast Anchorage House seat with 22% of the vote. She was a legislative aide and chief of staff to former Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux. The Alaska Department of Law has accused both women with encouraging people who lived outside LeDoux’s district to vote for her in the 2014 and 2018 elections. LeDoux and Simpson both say they are innocent.
The cases against LeDoux and Simpson have been delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were set to begin in August, but Simpson’s son Caden Vaught, who was also charged with voter misconduct, has recently obtained a new attorney, which delayed the trial’s start date indefinitely, said prosecutor Jenna Gruenstein.
Simpson, who has unsuccessfully run for state House twice before, said by phone that the charges against her weren’t a factor in why she withdrew; they were filed two years ago. Instead, she said she pulled out after watching Democrat Rep.-elect Mary Peltola beat former Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich III in the special U.S. House race. She said both Republicans had split the vote.
“I really don’t want to see that happen in our state House race. I’m a Republican, and I believe in Republican principles, and I feel that this is the best way to get a Republican elected in House District 22,” she said.
As a result, Democrat Ted Eischeid, an environmental planner with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, is left running in a two-way race against Republican Stanley Wright, a Navy veteran and former community outreach manager for the governor’s office. Eischeid finished eight points ahead of Wright and over 20 points ahead of Simpson.
Simpson is endorsing Wright. He said he’ll accept her endorsement, and believes the race will tighten if her supporters go over to him.
“I’m looking forward to serving the people, if they’ll have me,” Wright added.
The open seat is seen as a bellwether for progressives’ chances of keeping a bipartisan House majority caucus.
In the 20-seat Senate, there is increasing optimism from Democrats that they could win eight or nine seats and form a strong majority caucus with several moderate Republicans. Eagle River could be key.
Rep. Kelly Merrick, a moderate Republican who has been part of current bipartisan majority, is now in a two-way race with fellow state legislator Rep. Ken McCarty, who has caucused with the more conservative, wholly GOP minority caucus.
Republican Joe Wright dropped out of the race on Saturday. He said the seat he had originally filed to represent had changed during a roller-coaster ride of a redistricting process, and that he had to reassess after getting 11% of the primary vote.
Republican Clayton Trotter, an attorney and law professor, also withdrew over the weekend. He got less than 8% of the vote and made a similar calculation. He said it would take “a miracle” to win and that campaigning for the next two months would not be the wisest use of time or money. Wright said he won’t endorse either Republican left in the race. Trotter said he’s endorsing McCarty.
Merrick finished almost 25 points ahead of McCarty in the primary election, despite being censured by members of her own party a year ago. She followed a trend of moderate legislative candidates who saw successes in the state’s new open primary system, which surprised many.
“The primary results are encouraging that Alaskans want legislators that are willing to work together to get things done,” Merrick said by text message.
Here are the remaining eight legislative candidates to withdraw came from races across Alaska:
• In West Anchorage, Republican Joel McKinney and Alaska Constitution Party candidate Rick Beckes withdrew from a House race, leaving Republican former state legislator Liz Vazquez contesting an open seat against Democrat Jennie Armstrong. Armstrong finished nine points clear of Vazquez in the primary.
• Patrick “Ian” Sharrock, a nonpartisan candidate, withdrew from an open East Anchorage House race, leaving Republican Forrest Wolfe running against Democrat Donna Mears. Mears finished 43 votes ahead of Wolfe in what could be another key House race, and another tight contest for that seat.
• Democrat Drew Cason, a former legislative aide, dropped out of an open Anchorage Senate race, leaving a three-way race. Anchorage Assembly member Forrest Dunbar was well ahead of Democrat Rep. Geran Tarr and Republican Andrew Satterfield after the primary.
• In South Anchorage, Democrat Sue Levi pulled out of a four-way contest for an open House seat, saying she thought she’d be the only Democrat in the race. Republican former state legislator Craig Johnson is now left running against Democrat Caroline Storm, an architect, and Libertarian Mikel Insalaco, a small business owner.
• Further north in Anchorage, Alaska Independence Party candidate Timothy Huit dropped out of a House race, which leaves Democrat Rep. Andy Josephson running against Republican Kathy Henslee. Josephson finished exactly one vote behind Henslee in the primary.
• In Southeast Alaska, independent Shevaun Meggitt withdrew from a three-way race with nonpartisan Rep. Dan Ortiz and Republican Jeremy Bynum. Ortiz finished nine points clear of Bynum in the primary.
• In Fairbanks, independent Tim Parker withdrew, which meant four candidates are left in the race and no legislative candidates were eliminated by the new top four primary system. After the primary, Democrat Ashley Carrick was ahead of Republicans Kevin McKinley and Ruben McNeill, Jr., and Alaska Constitution Party candidate Kieran Brown.
After finalizing the candidate list, Gail Fenumiai, director of the Division of Elections, said the ballot design will be sent to the printers on Wednesday ahead of the general election Nov. 8.