Preliminary first-choice results from Tuesday’s general election are trending toward the Alaska Legislature being closely divided between Republicans on one side and Democrats and independents on the other.
With stark differences anticipated among the state’s lawmakers on social issues, how to address school funding and the state’s long-term fiscal challenges, the organization of both legislative chambers is expected to have a significant impact on which bills become law when they return to Juneau in January. Majority caucuses control the flow of legislation and assign key committee positions.
The partisan makeup of majority caucuses in the state House and Senate could be determined by thousands of outstanding ballots, the ranked choice tabulation process, which will be completed on Nov. 23, and closed-door discussions.
In the 20-seat Senate, preliminary results have Democrats on track to flip two seats blue and hold nine Senate seats in total. Preliminary results also looked good for three moderate Republican Senate candidates in key races, increasing chances of a bipartisan majority coalition. There have been closed-door discussions about whether one will form.
• In the biggest-spending legislative race this cycle, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman was optimistic Tuesday evening after being one point ahead of Republican Sen. Mia Costello for a West Anchorage Senate seat.
• In Fairbanks, Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki was at 49% of first-choice votes, ahead of Republican former Mayor Jim Matherly on 44%. Third-place Republican Alex Jafre had 6.5% of the vote in a race where his supporters’ second-choices could be decisive for who wins.
• Democratic Anchorage Assembly member Forrest Dunbar was far ahead with 49% of the vote for an East Anchorage seat, leading against Republican Andrew Satterfield with 35% and Democrat Rep. Geran Tarr with 16%.
• Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick, who has caucused with the bipartisan House majority, was more than 15 points ahead of conservative GOP Rep. Ken McCarty for an open Eagle River Senate seat. The race has been seen as a test for whether voters will reward legislators working across the aisle.
• Former Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel was neck-and-neck with Sen. Roger Holland, another Republican, for a South Anchorage seat. Democrat Roselynn Cacy was further back, but with ranked choice voting, much of the support for Cacy is expected to flow to Giessel, with the former Senate president’s lead growing.
• In what could be the biggest surprise this election, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman was ahead by five points against fellow Republican Tuckerman Babcock, former chair of the Alaska GOP and former chief of staff to Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The ranked choice tabulation could still be a factor with nonpartisan candidate Andy Cizek in third-place on 11%. Babcock said based on early numbers that Bjorkman would win the Soldotna Senate seat.
“I congratulate him, and wish him the best in his new role,” Babcock said on social media Wednesday.
• Bucking the trend of moderate success from early returns, conservative Republican Sen. Mike Shower was leading by five points for a Wasilla Senate seat against fellow Republican Doug Massie. Shower was trailing by a similar margin against Massie in August’s primary.
Twenty-one Republicans were leading in races for the 40-seat House after Tuesday night’s returns. Leads could flip in four races once more by-mail ballots are counted and voters’ second and third choices are tabulated, potentially expanding a slim GOP majority.
Since the 2016 election, a majority of Republicans have been elected to the House. But ideological divides among the GOP have seen Democrats and independents draw enough moderate Republicans over to form bipartisan majority coalitions.
Republicans hope to form a House majority in their own right. From early returns, the GOP is on track to elect at least 21 legislators, but it’s still possible Republicans fall just short.
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said the early numbers pointing toward a closely divided House were not a surprise. The challenge now will be organizing.
”The drama, in some ways, is just starting to build,” Edgmon said on Wednesday.
• In Anchorage’s Muldoon neighborhood, Republican Rep. David Nelson was ahead with 44% of the vote. Democrat Cliff Groh was second with 36% and Lyn Franks, also a Democrat, had 20%. Both have campaigned for their supporters to “rank the blue” to beat Nelson.
• Democrat Denny Wells was ahead for a South Anchorage House seat with 45% of the vote. If that margin holds and enough voters “ranked the red,” the combined support for Republican Rep. Tom McKay and Danny Eibeck, another Republican, could defeat Wells.
• Nonpartisan Walter Featherly had 44% of the vote and was four points ahead of Republican Julie Coulombe for an open South Anchorage House seat. Republican Ross Bieling was trailing in third place on 15%, but if enough of his supporters ranked Coulombe second, she could come from behind during a ranked choice tabulation.
• Democrat Maxine Dibert had 48% of the vote, ahead of Rep. Bart LeBon with 31% and far-right Republican challenger Kelly Nash with 21%. Nash’s supporters’ second choices could be key for a seat LeBon won by one vote in 2018.
Two years ago, left-leaning voters disproportionately cast ballots by mail as COVID-19 cases soared. This year, absentee and questioned ballots could be decisive in a handful of two-way races as they are tallied in coming days.
• By Thursday morning, Democratic Rep. Neal Foster was just six votes ahead of Alaskan Independence Party candidate Tyler Ivanoff for a Nome-region House seat. The race is a rematch after Foster narrowly won in the 2020 primary election.
• Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson was 86 votes ahead of Republican challenger Kathy Henslee for a Midtown Anchorage House seat. Josephson’s campaign was confident of extending that lead after focusing on by-mail voters.
• In East Anchorage, Republican former legislative aide Forrest Wolfe was 135 votes ahead of Democratic engineer Donna Mears. There are enough outstanding absentee ballots that that gap could be bridged, as happened after August’s primary.
• Republican Stanley Wright was 151 votes ahead of Democrat Ted Eischeid in a Northeast Anchorage seat. The number of uncounted questioned ballots was unknown in that race by Wednesday afternoon, but there are fewer outstanding absentee ballots than in East Anchorage, making Wright’s lead more solid.
• Preliminary results show that former Republican legislators Dan Saddler and Craig Johnson are on track to return to the state Capitol, representing Eagle River and South Anchorage.
Two House incumbents are trending towards losing their seats.
• Rep. Ron Gillham was five points behind fellow Republican Justin Ruffridge in Soldotna. Republican Frank Tomaszewski was solidly ahead of Democrat Rep. Grier Hopkins for a Fairbanks House seat.
• In downtown Anchorage, Rep. Zack Fields was leading by 15 points against fellow Democrat Rep. Harriet Drummond after being paired together in the same district due to redistricting. Drummond congratulated Fields on social media late Wednesday.
• Republican Rep. David Eastman and Democratic candidate Jennie Armstrong are both on track to win in Wasilla and West Anchorage. Ongoing lawsuits challenging their eligibility to hold office have added uncertainty for how majorities might form.
For now, legislators and candidates are waiting for more numbers as discussions continue.
Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who was solidly leading in his race against Republican John Cunningham, said Alaskans will have to wait until Nov. 23 and the ranked choice voting tabulation to have a better sense of the makeup of the Legislature.
“It’s going to be a long couple of weeks,” he said.