Race Preview: House District 18 (Spenard/Midtown Anchorage)

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House District 18 (HD18) is nestled right in the heart of Anchorage. It starts at Westchester Lagoon in the neighborhoods surrounding West High School, then runs East along Chester Creek to just East of Lake Otis & Northern Lights, then, turns South along the Seward Highway (eschewing the neighborhoods of Lake Otis) down to Tudor Road, and West until it takes almost all of Spenard. It’s diverse blend of commercial districts and varied living areas make it the most Anchorage-ish of all legislative districts.

This fall, HD18 will be the site of one of the more intriguing questions of the election cycle: Can All-Anchorage Republican Mike Gordon beat Harriet Drummond, the Democrat incumbent? It will be at best an uphill battle.2013-Proclamation-Anchorage

District Analysis

House District 18 is a rectangular box that includes Midtown, Spenard, Rogers Park, North Star and a small part of Turnagain neighborhoods. Most of these areas are traditionally heavily Democratic.

As you can see in this table, statewide Republicans are closing in on a 2-1 advantage in the number of registered Republicans to those registered as Democrats. In HD18, however, Democrats actually outnumber Republicans by 20%.

House District 18 State of Alaska
% Registered Republicans 17.7 26.0
% Registered Democrats 21.3 15.0

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Here is a breakdown of how HD18 has voted in the last two election cycles:

2014

U.S. Senate

2014

U.S. Congress

2014

Alaska Governor

2012

U.S. President

Dan Sullivan

34.2%

Don Young

37.9%

Sean Parnell

34.8%

Mitt Romney

40.0%

Mark Begich

59.8%

Forrest Dunbar

55.3%

Bill Walker

55.8%

Barack Obama

55.8%

Avg. Republican 36.7%
Avg. Democrat 56.7%

That math is not an ally to Gordon. Before he raises his first campaign dollar or knocks on his first voter door he started off in a 20-point hole just by carrying an R next to his name on the ballot.

The Challenger

Mike Gordon

Mike Gordon

There are few who can lay claim to the term “All-Anchorage” more than Mike Gordon. The man best known for owning and growing Chilkoot Charlie’s from a seedy bar in Spenard into an Alaska institution has lived and been involved in public policy in this district since before many of us were alive. He attended Anchorage High School before Anchorage was big enough to designate schools East, West, or South. Gordon served on Anchorage’s City Council back before the City of Anchorage and Borough of Anchorage unified in the late 70’s into what we now know as “The Muni”.

His resume reads as a history of Anchorage.

Now this man-of-Anchorage is throwing his hat into the ring to run for state house as a Republican, and he makes for an impressive candidate. Gordon has the kind of deep roots in the Spenard-area district that transcends politics.

He also sports the solid pro-business bona fides Republican bosses, voters, and more importantly deep-pocketed donors, cherish in their candidates. It’s unlikely Gordon will be out spent or out home-towned.

Gordon has been organized for a serious run for almost a year. He has brought on board a qualified campaign coordinator, campaign consultant, and is holding fundraisers with big-name attendees.

As a resident of HD18, I can personally attest to seeing Gordon out knocking on doors on many occasions.

His actions say he is in it to win it.

Before the holidays last winter, I sat down with Gordon to get a sense of the man and his politics.

The good news for Gordon supporters is he gets it. He is a Republican running in a deep blue district and his rhetoric reflects it. Gordon paints a picture of himself as a pro-business moderate interested in talking about the economy and state budget issues. His website and facebook page are completely devoid of hot-button social issues like gay marriage or abortion.

By staying in this lane and avoiding far-right rhetoric Gordon hopes to maximize his personal connections, deep ties to the area, and local businessman street-cred to win over as many centrist or even left-leaning voters as possible.

The Incumbent

Rep. Harriett Drummond

Rep. Harriet Drummond served this district on the Anchorage Assembly from 2008-2012, when she successfully ran to represent HD18. She has served as a steadfast member of the Democrat caucus.

Rep. Drummond has a reputation as an active and engaged campaigner. In two legislative elections, she has never received less than 56% of the vote. She has a solid track record of being engaged in the community and with constituent services.

She doesn’t have a robust campaign presence in the district yet, and by that I mean there are no yard signs up, but word is she has brought on board staffer Patrick Fitzgerald to work on her campaign.

Conclusion

Even with a well run, tone-perfect campaign, Gordon will still need help to win. After speaking to Republican strategists and activists, there is a sense they will get just that help from Drummond herself. Those insiders see Drummond as inherently unlikable.

They see her persona as abrasive and off-putting to voters in the district and will be counting on that disconnect to help drive voters otherwise not inclined to vote for a Republican to their hometown boy Mike Gordon.

It’s worth noting this is exactly the same kind of unlikability Democrats tend to project on Sen. Cathy Giessel and pin their hopes on for unseating the conservative senator from her conservative district every election cycle.

To date, that perception has never manifested itself at the polls as Giessel continues to easily best her Democratic challengers, one after another. Will it be enough in a solidly Democratic district with the progressive Drummond?

Overall, Gordon is for real. His candidate profile, organization, and messaging inspire confidence. He is primed to take this race as far as any Republican in this district can.

Unfortunately, the truth is that still gives him no better than 1 chance in 3 of winning. The district is just that safe for Democrats.

Race Rating: Lean Democrat