Fairbanks man is lone candidate eliminated in Alaska’s legislative primaries

Fifty-nine of the state’s 60 legislative seats are on the ballot in November

By: - August 17, 2022 1:11 am
"I voted" stickers are seen on display at a polling station in Juneau's Mendenhall Valley on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

“I voted” stickers are seen on display at a polling station in Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Alaska Constitution Party candidate Kieran Brown is expected to be the only candidate eliminated by Tuesday’s primary elections for the Alaska Legislature, which include 59 different elections and almost 200 candidates.

Alaska’s new top-four primary system means up to four candidates may advance to the Nov. 8 general election in each legislative race, and Brown was on pace to finish fifth in the primary for House District 35 in Fairbanks, the only race with more than four candidates.

Elsewhere across the state, the legislative primary elections amounted to an informal straw poll with mixed value.

As of midnight Wednesday morning, 277 of 402 precincts were reporting results and turnout hovered near 24% of registered voters. Even after all precincts report, thousands of absentee and other ballots must still be counted.

The new top-four system was installed in a 2020 ballot measure that also will bring ranked-choice voting in the general election.

Before the election, political consultants and pollers said a low-turnout primary may not translate directly to November general-election victories.

“If the turnout numbers are 30% or lower, that implies fairly low interest in the election, which doesn’t necessarily translate into November numbers,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, who is not running for re-election.

Sarah Erkmann Ward, who has advised some Republican candidates, said indications of November victory would be strongest in races with wide margins.

There were several Tuesday, particularly in the Alaska Senate.

Three Republicans — Senators Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks; Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; and Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak — appeared to be fending off challenges from other Republicans.

With 18 of 25 precincts reporting, Stedman was leading Republican Mike Sheldon, his lone challenger, by 35 percentage points. With 37 of 48 precincts reporting, Bishop had 56% of the vote in a race that featured two conservative opponents. And with 14 of 21 precincts reporting results, Stevens had 61% of the vote in a race featuring two other Republicans.

A fourth Republican, Rep. Kelly Merrick, has been a member of the House’s coalition majority for the past two years and was repeatedly censured for that membership. Now running for Senate, she had 53% of the vote in a Senate race that features three other Republicans.

Two other Senate races appear to be on track for a close fight in November. 

In West Anchorage, Democratic Rep. Matt Claman had 51% of the vote against incumbent Republican Sen. Mia Costello. Both will face each other in November, and there are no other candidates on the ballot.

In Fairbanks, Democratic incumbent Scott Kawasaki had 51.2% of the vote with five of eight precincts reporting. He faces two Republican challengers, including incumbent Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly.

State House races appeared generally closer, with some incumbents trailing their challengers. Longtime Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson trailed Republican Kathy Henslee by 87 votes out of 3,432 cast, signaling a close race in November. On the Kenai Peninsula, conservative Republican Rep. Ron Gillham trailed Republican Justin Ruffridge by 12 percentage points with five of six precincts reporting. 

Republican incumbent Reps. George Rauscher of Sutton, Cathy Tilton of Wasilla, and Delena Johnson of Palmer all had large leads, indicating likely success in November.

Among Democrats, newcomer Genevieve Mina of Anchorage had a large lead over fellow Democrat Russell Wyatt. 

In downtown Anchorage, the race between incumbent Rep. Zack Fields and incumbent Rep. Harriet Drummond, two lawmakers redistricted into the same House district, was separated by 42 votes out of 3,651 cast.

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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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