Republican presidential campaigns gear up in Alaska for Super Tuesday

Alaska Republicans will head to the polls Tuesday to decide on a Republican nominee for president, one of 13 such contests being held around the country on "Super Tuesday."

Twenty-five delegates will be up for grabs in the Alaska Republican Party's "presidential preference poll." Five candidates -- Ben Carson, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Donald Trump -- will appear on the party ballot.

Only registered Republicans, or Alaskans who register as Republicans at the voting site, can participate in the poll. To get any of the proportionally allocated delegates, candidates will need to get at least 13 percent of the vote. Three state party leaders will attend the national convention as unpledged delegates, which brings Alaska's overall delegate count to 28.

While Alaska's population is relatively tiny, the state's record as a Republican stronghold gives it about the same number of delegates as more populous states like Iowa. The 12 Super Tuesday states and one territory combined will select 595 delegates, with 1,237 required to win the Republican nomination. The Republican National Convention is set for July 18 in Cleveland.

In Alaska this week, campaigns were gearing up, both officially and unofficially, to pitch the Republican candidates to voters. Suzanne Downing, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, said recent straw polls conducted by the party reflected national trends, with Trump and Cruz at the top and Rubio in third place. An Alaska Dispatch News poll conducted in January, before the Iowa caucuses, found strong support for Trump and Cruz.

At least as of Thursday, Trump's official campaign presence in the state was a bit of a mystery. Trump's campaign website did not list Alaska as one of the states where supporters could volunteer. Downing said the Alaska Republican Party wasn't aware of an official contact for the Trump campaign in the state, and a Trump spokeswoman didn't answer emails seeking comment.

In North Pole, Republican Barbara Haney, who attended the 2012 Republican convention as a delegate for former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said she is supporting Trump in her own way, like posting on Facebook.


In Alaska, "you're seeing people who are hearing his message and going, 'Yeah,'" Haney said. "There isn't really an official presence that I'm aware of."

Haney said in the northern part of the state, most Trump supporters are gathering on Facebook, sharing links about Trump rallies and chatting back and forth online. She said she likes Trump's stances on veterans issues, student-data privacy rights and Common Core standards for education.

As in other states, Trump supporters on social media seem to be fueling plenty of enthusiasm. As of Thursday, one page, Alaskans for Trump 2016, had more than 1,400 likes.

In January, former Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed Trump.

Representatives of rival campaigns acknowledged Trump's momentum in Alaska and the rest of the country, but said they'll make strong pushes to get their candidates' messages out.

"I don't understand this language that the race is over," said David Bronson, an Anchorage resident who is representing former neurosurgeon Carson's campaign in Alaska.

For Rubio's campaign, the Alaska ground-game began months ago. In June, the campaign announced it had appointed veteran Alaska political consultant Art Hackney as its state campaign chair and selected regional chairs in Southcentral, Southeast and Interior Alaska. A November Facebook post by the state GOP called Rubio "the only candidate known by the Alaska Republican Party to have a campaign operation in Alaska."

A paid staffer for the Rubio campaign, Nathan Hohnstein, arrived in Alaska on Thursday. Jeremy Adler, a regional spokesman for Rubio, said Hohnstein will help Hackney organize ground campaign efforts like sign-waving.

Hackney and his wife, April, worked as campaign coordinators for former President George W. Bush in 1999. Four years earlier, Pat Buchanan won in Alaska, and Buchanan used the momentum to "literally bounce through two more states," Hackney said. "It got him national headlines."

Hackney said the Rubio campaign in Alaska is focused, quite simply, on getting people to pay attention to Rubio as a candidate. He said the campaign will contend Rubio stands the best chance of winning against a Democratic candidate in the general election.

"There is a clear path for Rubio (to the presidency)," Hackney said.

He said Rubio surrogates will call talk radio shows to pitch Rubio directly to Alaska Republicans on issues that include Rubio's support for transferring federal lands to state governments.

A similarly Alaska-focused message on public land ownership will also come from the organization for Cruz. The Cruz campaign sent an official campaign representative to Alaska this week from the Lower 48.

Robert Uithoven, the Nevada-based western regional political director for the Cruz campaign, landed in Anchorage on Thursday. He watched CNN's Republican debate Thursday at City Diner in Spenard.

Uithoven said over the phone he'll be in Alaska through Super Tuesday. On Friday, he was calling into talk radio shows, contacting state legislators and organizing meet-ups with Cruz supporters.

The fact that he made the trip shows how important winning Alaska is to the campaign, Uithoven said.

"We'll be coordinating efforts and working on making sure the voters of Alaska know the contrast between Sen. Cruz and those remaining in the field," Uithoven said.


As well as stressing Cruz's support for transferring federal lands to state ownership -- which the Cruz campaign is drawing as a contrast to Trump -- Uithoven said the campaign will emphasize Cruz's stance on national security and his flat-tax proposal.

Bronson, the Carson representative, said Trump and Cruz "seem to suck all the oxygen out of the room." But he said he detects good energy for his candidate. Carson's western regional director, Russ Walker, came to Alaska in October to meet with voters, according to the Alaska Republican Party.

Bronson said the Carson campaign is focusing on electronic communications, like Facebook and email, heading into Tuesday. He said Carson's support for rebuilding the nation's military will resonate with Alaska voters.

A Super PAC supporting Kasich, New Day for America, has asked Anchorage political consultant Cale Green to work as its regional director, according to Connie Wehrkamp, the PAC's press secretary.

"Our team is actively reaching out to Alaskans in a variety of ways, asking for their support of Gov. Kasich on Tuesday and sharing his proven record of balancing budgets, bringing jobs back from China and Mexico, supporting a strong military, cutting taxes and shrinking the size of government," Wehrkamp wrote in an email.

About 136,600 Alaskans were registered as Republicans as of Thursday, according to the state Division of Elections. Anyone who isn't registered as a Republican, but wants to participate in the poll must register on the spot, a possibility at almost every voting location, said Downing, who has also volunteered on the Rubio campaign.

She said the party has tried to set up as close to a primary system as possible, with voting available in every legislative district in the state. By using a database in conjunction with the poll, the party is able to mark off voters and prevent double-voting, Downing said.

The primary in August is conducted by the state. The presidential delegate selection process is unofficial and run by political parties.


Downing said the state GOP is printing more ballots than it has in the past and expects a large turnout. In the 2012 preference poll, more than 14,100 people voted, which Downing said marked an increase of about 2,000 people from the party's first preference poll in 2008.

A list of polling locations can be found on the party's website. Polls will open at 3 p.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m. State GOP representatives said an "election central" will be set up the Lofts Hotel on West Fourth Avenue in Anchorage to watch the results come in.

On March 26, the state Democratic Party will hold caucuses statewide to pick the party's nominee.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.