Fifty-one of the Alaska Legislature’s 60 seats are up for election this fall, but as Election Day approaches, Republicans and Democrats are focusing their efforts on 14 key races.
Those seats, experts say, could decide who controls the Alaska House and the Alaska Senate for the next two years.
Polls open Oct. 19 for early voting, and 22,404 Alaskans had voted absentee by Thursday, according to data from the Alaska Division of Elections.
Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, said there isn’t enough money or time to put maximum effort into every race.
Some districts are more Republican or Democratic than others, some candidates seem to be running closer than others, and every group has to decide where its money will be most influential, he said. That makes financial reports a useful indicator of what races may be the most important in the state.
The House currently has 23 Republicans; 21 seats are needed to control the body. The Senate has 13 Republicans; 11 seats are needed to control it.
“While there’s a lot more races we’d like to play in, we have limitations on our resources. We can’t play in every single one,” Beltrami said.
Ryan McKee, head of the Alaska chapter of Americans for Prosperity, frequently opposes Beltrami on political issues.
“We agree with Vince on that one. There’s always a limited amount of resources and not enough hours in the day,” he said.
Based on the latest campaign finance reports, these are the races to watch:
Lance Pruitt (R) v. Liz Snyder (D) (Anchorage House)
Snyder lost to Pruitt by fewer than 200 votes two years ago and has raised $158,575 — more money than any other House candidate in Anchorage and three times Pruitt’s fundraising. Independent Democratic groups are advertising heavily against Pruitt as well.
Robert Myers (R) v. Marna Sanford (I) v. Evan Eads (I) (Fairbanks Senate)
She’s also being supported by independent groups who think she can flip what has traditionally been a Republican seat. If she were to win and no other seats changed hands, a group including her, moderate Republicans and Democrats could have enough votes to control the Senate.
Independent Evan Eads has spent almost $32,000 on a mostly self-funded campaign but on Friday night announced he would suspend that campaign and endorse Sanford. It’s too late to remove his name from the ballot.
Chris Tuck (D) v. Kathy Henslee (R) v. Timothy Huit (AIP) (Anchorage House)
Republicans hope to flip this seat from incumbent Democratic Rep. Tuck, and they helped Henslee raise more money than Tuck during the period between the primary and Oct. 5. She was one of only 13 Republicans to raise more money than their opponent during that period. Huit is running as an Alaskan Independence Party candidate, and this district tends to have close races.
Michael Cronk (R) v. Julia Hnilicka (D) and three independents (Denali House)
Democrats have put more than $66,000 into the campaign of Julia Hnilicka, who is also being boosted by independent groups. While this district south of Fairbanks has been represented by a Republican in recent years, incumbent Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, is not running for another term.
Talerico has endorsed Republican Mike Cronk, but three independents are also on the ballot, and Democrats think the four will split the district’s conservative votes. One of those independents, Elijah Verhagen, raised more money than Cronk in the most recent reporting period and has raised almost as much as Cronk overall.
Adam Wool (D) v. Kevin McKinley (R) (Fairbanks House)
Two years ago, Wool beat McKinley by only 427 votes out of 6,571 cast. Republicans believe a rematch will result in a different result, and the state party has contributed more than $10,000, boosting McKinley’s campaign income to almost $38,000. Americans for Prosperity’s political action committee is boosting McKinley as well. Wool has raised more than $56,000.
David Nelson (R) v. Lyn Franks (D) (Anchorage House)
Incumbent Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux lost the Republican primary to Nelson, who at 23 would be the youngest lawmaker in the state if elected. Franks lost to LeDoux by 241 votes two years ago, and while their district tends to vote Republican, Franks has raised $10,000 more than Nelson and is receiving significant support from Democratic and LGBTQ groups.
Sara Rasmussen (R) v. Stephen Trimble (I) v. David Nees (AIP) (Anchorage House)
Republican Rep. Rasmussen has raised significantly more money than independent Trimble, but outside Democratic groups are getting involved in this race as well. One is spending $14,000 to run negative online ads against Rasmussen. A wild card is Alaskan Independence Party candidate David Nees.
Mel Gillis (R) v. Calvin Schrage (I) (Anchorage)
Schrage, an independent, has raised more money than any other legislative candidate since Aug. 9 and has raised over $97,000 in total. The Republican, Gillis, was appointed to his seat by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and is running in his first election. He has raised more than $70,000.
James Kaufman (R) v. Suzanne LaFrance (I) v. Benjamin Fletcher (I) (Anchorage)
Kaufman defeated Republican incumbent Rep. Jennifer Johnston in the primary but now faces a challenge from Anchorage Assemblywoman LaFrance, who is being backed by Democrats who think they can flip a seat. LaFrance has raised more money than Kaufman since the primary. Independent candidate Fletcher is not raising money.
Sarah Vance (R) v. Kelly Cooper (I) (Homer)
Cooper, presiding officer of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, is running as an independent against Republican incumbent Vance and has significant financial support from Democrats. Republicans are financially supporting Vance, but Cooper has the fundraising edge so far.
Care Clift (I) v. Roger Holland (R) v. Carl Johnson (D) (Anchorage)
Four years ago, this district had the most expensive state Senate race in Alaska. Even with three candidates, this year it’s only No. 4. Holland defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel in the primary but has only a $7,000 fundraising advantage over Democratic candidate Johnson, who has raised $44,600. Libertarian-turned-independent Care Clift has reported just $10,272.
Elizabeth Niiqsik Ferguson (D) v. Josiah Patkotak (I) (Kotzebue/Utqiagvik)
Ferguson was a staffer for nonpartisan incumbent Rep. John Lincoln, who is not running for reelection. She is being strongly supported by Democrats and has raised significantly more money than Patkotak, who has no donors — other than himself — from the district.
Josh Revak (R) v. Andy Holleman (I) (Anchorage)
Dan Ortiz (I) v. Leslie Becker (R) (Ketchikan)
Ortiz is the independent incumbent from southern Southeast, but Republicans hope to win the seat behind Becker, who has given $50,000 to her own campaign.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Suzanne LaFrance as a Democratic candidate. She is a registered nonpartisan.