On Saturday the Democrat faithful turned out in big numbers across the state to participate in their party’s caucus. Media reports of the event, including this one from Devin Kelly of the Alaska Dispatch News, do an excellent job of telling you who won and what the atmosphere was like. What they don’t tell you are all the politically relevant details of what happened as the day unfolded.
That is where The Midnight Sun steps in. Here are 10 things that happened at the caucuses you probably haven’t read about.
Mayor was all about the caucus….but — The good Mayor of Anchorage Ethan Berkowitz and his wife showed up to the Anchorage caucus location at West High School to experience the event. He even took to the stage and gave his usual stump speech about the values we share and how everyone regardless of race or religion needs a voice, and how we can all do it together.
After giving his speech an interesting thing happened. The Mayor left the event rather than participate in the caucus himself, which would have required him making a decision between Hillary and Bernie and then displaying that preference for all to see.
Apparently the need to stand up and be heard is an everyone else kind of a thing to Hizzoner.
Props to former Governor Bill Sheffield, he showed up AND participated, caucusing for Hillary.
Other Politicos showed too — A slew of Democrat state legislators made the trek home for the caucus including Chris Tuck, Ivy Spohnholz, Berta Gardner, Harriet Drummond, Matt Claman, and Andy Josephson. I couldn’t tell if or how many of them participated in the caucus itself. Some appeared to be volunteering to help put on the event.
Stocking up on Dem street cred — The one thing that went amazingly unreported was who the Alaska Democratic Party chose before the event to give microphone time to. With hundreds, if not thousands of juiced-up Democrats, crowded into the auditorium at West High School the mic was given to “Independent” candidate for U.S. Senate Margaret Stock. She told the crowd she didn’t leave the Republican party, the Republican Party left her.
The questions have to be asked, if Stock really isn’t a Democrat then why did the Democratic Party invite her to speak at their biggest event of the year? And if she doesn’t align with the Alaska Democratic Party, why would she accept?
Bernie won big, and everywhere — The first thing political insiders usually want to look at in examining voting results is where did a particular candidate’s votes come from? In this case it was an across the board resounding victory for Bernie Sanders. As this breakdown from the Alaska Democratic Party’s website shows Bernie won every single legislative district and received no less than 68% in any of them.
More than a few Hillary supporters were overheard complaining that they lost because Bernie’s crew was advertising and getting out the vote and Hillary’s crew didn’t. The implication being that if her crew had worked harder or put more of an emphasis on Alaska she could have won. I have one word for that: FALSE. If you lose by 5 points, maybe working harder or being better organized could have turned the tide. When you lose by 60 points, the tide was a tsunami that was going to wipe you out no matter what.
The good news for Dems — Comparing preliminary numbers of the Alaska Republican Party to those of the Alaska Democratic Party following each side’s caucus an interesting fact comes to light. Bernie Sanders got more votes in Alaska (8447) than the presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump did (7346). That is pretty amazing considering just over twice as many people participated in the GOP primary/caucus than did the Democratic Party’s caucus. Granted, there were five candidates on the GOP ballot as opposed to three in the Dem contest, but still, for Bernie to out do Trump in Alaska is pretty…..YUUUUGE.
The bad news for Dems — Sadly for Alaska Dems the presidential race probably won’t be a Bernie v. Trump affair. It will potentially pit Hillary against the Trumpster. In these results Trump won about 3 ½ times more votes than Hillary did. Will the clearly engaged Bernie supporters translate to Hillary in the fall?
Democrats had a huge turnout, but… — The Alaska Democratic Party was super proud of what they considered massive turnout for their cause. Turnout was apparently so large it broke not only previous turnout records, but defied mathematical laws:
“Almost 11,000 Alaskans cast votes for President at the Democratic caucuses held March 26 at 42 locations across the state. The record turnout in 2016 was 119% of the turnout in 2008, and far more than anticipated.”
“With 100% of the districts reporting, Bernie Sanders received 81%, or 440 state convention delegates awarded. Hillary Clinton received 21% or 99 delegates.” – Alaska Democratic Party Press Release (3-26-16)
All jokes aside. This turnout may have been good by historical caucus turnout standards, but the same caveat applies to the Democrats caucus as to the Alaska GOP’s “primary-ish” style caucus where people just show up, vote, and leave. The caveat is that by normal election turnout standards this was an abysmal showing. If this were a normal statewide election the 11,000 people who participated would represent a 2.1% turnout.
It really was a dangerous situation — There is no way around it. The hallway and auditorium at West High School where Alaska Democrats gathered in Anchorage to hold their event was a health, life, and safety hazard. Here is a picture, judge for yourself:
People were crammed in so tight they couldn’t breath and auditum door couldn’t open. If a firecracker had gone off many people would have been severely hurt and probably died. It is warranted for local municipalities around the state to review their reg and possibly even requiring both major political parties file contingency plans for their caucus voting locations before their events in 4 years. That way organizers will be forced to think and plan for what happens if turnout exceeds their expectations, rather than offering the confused response we saw Saturday.
Bernie big with caucusers, but not party insiders — Bernie Sanders won the Alaska caucus about 4-1, but what most of those who voted for Bernie either didn’t know or couldn’t be bothered to care about was that the Presidential caucus was only one function of the event. There were still the matters of electing delegates to the state convention, and electing district & regional leadership positions. Very few of the throngs of Bernie supporters stuck around to feel the bern of responsibility for building their party apparatus to win elections.
By the time the party faithful gathered later in the day to elect party leadership positions only about 150 of the 5,000+ Anchorage participants were still around. The makeup of the audience had also shifted. Whereas Bernie had a 4-1 majority of early caucusers, Hillary easily boasted somewhere between a 2-1 and a 3-1 majority, (made up largely of democrat legislators, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’ staff, and longtime party insiders) among those who stuck around to vote on Democratic Party leadership.
As a result “Disco” Ray Metcalfe lost his run to be a regional Co-Chairman after promising that if he won the Alaska Democratic Party would look more like Bernie Sanders. The Establishment favorite Josh Spring beat him by about 2-1.
Campaigning — I was curious if any Democrat candidates would take advantage of the mass gathering of like minded voters to get some campaigning in. As far as I could tell only one had a presence, Eric Croft. He was working the crowds and had a table sat up offering collateral material. I have no idea if Croft will make a good assemblyman, but you have to give credit, the man knows how to campaign and is committed.