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Presidential campaigns begin unveiling Alaska efforts

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published June 22, 2015

The candidates to replace President Barack Obama have started their pursuit of Alaska's three electoral votes, nearly 3,000 miles and seven months from the Iowa caucuses that denote the formal start of the Democratic and Republican parties' presidential selection processes.

Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and front-runner for the Democratic nomination, already has a paid staffer in Alaska and the campaign has held a series of kickoff meetings. Marco Rubio, the Florida senator and Republican presidential contender, over the weekend announced his own group of local campaign boosters. Others have been emailing local party officials as they seek to set up their teams.

The presidential election "seems to be the flavor of the month, now that the Legislature adjourned," said Randy Ruedrich, the former Alaska Republican Party chair. He's recruiting presidential campaigns to appear at the party's annual picnic in September.

The candidates are first vying for the nominations from their respective parties, with the Alaska Democrats' district caucuses scheduled for March 26 and the Republicans' presidential preference poll set for March 1.

But the Clinton campaign, at least, appears to be eyeing the general election too.

"Think Alaska is deeply red?" its Alaska organizer, Connor Shaw, wrote in a Facebook post in May. "Well, in the 'red wave' of 2014, Democrats picked up three seats in (the) state (Legislature), voted out a Republican incumbent governor, and had the closest battleground Senate race!"

Shaw, who didn't respond to a phone message Monday, appears to be the first paid presidential campaign staffer on the ground in Alaska. He's part of an effort by the Clinton campaign to put paid workers in all 50 states, though he faces an uphill battle given that Democratic candidates have lost every presidential election in Alaska since Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in 1964. (The first one after statehood, however, was a squeaker, with Richard Nixon defeating John F. Kennedy in 1960 by less than 2 percent.)

The Clinton campaign has held five grass-roots organizing meetings in the Anchorage area, Tyrone Gayle, a Clinton campaign spokesman, said in an email Monday.

Shaw's social media postings -- interspersed with pictures of moose -- also reference a group discussion with students at the University of Alaska Anchorage. And one of his tweets is a tweak at Rubio, whose campaign left Alaska and Hawaii off a map of the United States on its campaign logo.

That omission, in fact, was one of the points under discussion as Rubio's campaign began setting up its Alaska team.

"When I got on the phone with them, I said: 'Here's the deal breaker: You left Alaska off your damn logo,'" said Art Hackney, an Anchorage political consultant who's volunteering as the Rubio campaign's leader in the state along with his wife, April.

The logo is being redone, Hackney said, and his role was announced Sunday in a statement from the spokeswoman for the state Republican party, Suzanne Downing. Downing will also be an adviser to the Rubio campaign in Alaska.

Party officials are forbidden from assisting Republican candidates vying for the GOP nomination in state-level races. But that prohibition doesn't extend to presidential elections, said Peter Goldberg, the party's chairman.

Goldberg, in a phone interview Monday on his way to fish for salmon in the Russian River, said there's a "whole laundry list of great candidates" in the jampacked Republican primary. But he wouldn't reveal which one he favors.

"It's personal," he said.

Goldberg did say, however, that he'd be present at the first debate between the Republican candidates, in Cleveland in August.

Several other presidential campaigns either didn't respond to requests for comment Monday or said they haven't started working on the ground in Alaska yet.

That includes the campaign of Ted Cruz, the conservative Republican senator from Texas.

Cruz appeared in Alaska last year at pre-election rallies for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. But his campaign currently lacks a presence in the state, spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in a brief phone interview Monday.

Frazier said that the Cruz campaign "is working in, really, every state to identify folks that would be willing to head up ground efforts in those states."

"We're just kind of announcing them as they get put together," she added.

There are 61 members of a Facebook page, meanwhile, called Alaska for Bernie Sanders, which celebrates the Vermont senator who's running as a liberal alternative to Clinton. But that campaign also lacks a physical outpost in the state, a staff member, Sam Ghazey, wrote in an email Monday.

"Right now Bernie's campaign is working to expand our presence throughout the entire country, but at this time we do not have an official office in Alaska," Ghazey said. "We plan on engaging all citizens of this country in order to revolutionize our political and economic systems."

Two other Republican campaigns — those of Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon and author — have made initial inquiries with local GOP leaders, said Daniel Hamm, who leads a Palmer-based group of conservatives called the Alaska Republican Assembly.

That interest notwithstanding, Alaska ultimately amounts to a relative blip on the radar for most presidential candidates, given the state's reliable Republican lean, Hamm said in a phone interview Monday.

"We've only got three electoral votes, so it's tough to get a whole lot of attention," he said. "It's going to be kind of quiet on our end — they kind of take the deep-red states for granted."

But Kay Brown, the executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, pointed to the Clinton campaign's decision to send a paid staffer to the state as evidence that things could be changing.

"It does show, I think, the perception that Alaska is achievable to a Democrat, and resources and effort being expended here is a good sign," she said. "The fact they agree it is worth their time and effort is very encouraging."

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