The one thing this race definitely does not lack is colorful and energetic candidates. You might recognize the names Dustin Darden, David Nees, and Ed Cullinane from their many previous runs for public office.
Dustin Darden is Mr. Clean Water (aka fluoride’s number one enemy). David Nees is a brash conservative warrior on education policy. Ed Cullinane is the guy who asked to be listed as “Berniecrat” on the ballot and produced this ad in a previous run for office.
Lots of color in this group and we haven’t even gotten to the top two contenders for the seat. The two key contenders would be the young and newly Independent Jason Grenn and Incumbent Republican Liz Vazquez.
It should be an entertaining race.
House District 22 (HD22) is a densely packed area that includes the neighborhoods South of Raspberry Rd, West of the Hickel Pkwy, and North of Dimond Blvd. and Campbell Lake.
As you can see in this table, the district is slightly more Republican-leaning than the state average. Republican voter registration here outperforms the statewide average by 2.3 points and Democrat registration is just slightly (.7 points) lower than the statewide average.
|House District 22||State of Alaska|
|% Registered Republicans||28.3||26.0|
|% Registered Democrats||14.3||15.0|
Here is a breakdown of how HD22 has voted in the last two election cycles:
|Avg. Republican 51.1%|
|Avg. Democrat 43.4%|
These numbers say this is a district Republicans should win easily.
The incumbent Rep. Liz Vazquez was first elected to the Legislature in 2014 and is finishing up her first term in office. She has served as the Co-Chair of the fairly powerful House Energy Committee and Vice-Chair of the Education Committee.
Vazquez has the look of a productive first-time legislator having sponsored and secured passage this year of HB 243, a promising telehealth medicine bill.
Perhaps more importantly for a conservative first-timer, she has been free of any major gaffes an opponent could use against Vazquez.
Vazquez’ opponent is electorally omnipresent conservative education activist David Nees. Nees ran unsuccessfully for Anchorage School Board in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016.
While Nees is perennially present to lead conservative conversations on education policy, it would be a stretch to call him a Republican insider. In fact, he is still viewed by many on that side as costing Kay Schuster an achievable victory in this past spring’s three-way school board race. He has also not been shy about criticizing Republican Party leadership when they favor another conservative over him in a race.
Because of Vazquez’ solid performance the last two years in the eyes of Republicans and Nees’ mavericky reputation, it’s pretty clear the Republican Party and business establishment are going to line up behind Vazquez.
That makes her the favorite to win the Republican primary.
Ed Cullinane previously ran for the Legislature in this same area in 2010 against Sen. Lesil McGuire. It didn’t go well for Cullinane. He only received 26% of the vote in the general election.
He is a loud-and-proud supporter of Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, going so far as to try to be listed on the ballot as “Berniecrat.”
Did we mention how Republican this district is?
Jason Grenn is running as a true Independent. Grenn is young, politically moderate, energetic, engaging and likable.
Evaluating him as a candidate, I can’t find any negatives. If I still worked for the Alaska Republican Party, he is exactly who I would be recruiting to run for office.
Unfortunately, he was a registered Republican who chose to re-register to run outside of the party structure. He will probably end up regretting that decision.
The Alaska Independence Party (AIP) Candidate
Just for those who aren’t clear, there is a difference between the Alaska Independence Party (AIP), who’s ticket Darden is running on, and being an Independent, as the young Jason Grenn is. AIP is a political party with a platform and policy agenda. Being Independent means you have no political party.
If you don’t know Dustin Darden, you are missing something. He is a young anti-fluoride, pro-life activist with a passion for running and an odd charm. He is kind of Seinfeld’s proverbial Kramer in Anchorage politics.
Darden doesn’t demonstrate a command of policy or ability to build a following, but he is active and has a penchant for garnering earned media.
That was enough to help him pull in 5% of the vote in this spring’s Assembly race. He is likely to haul in a similar number this fall, so while he won’t win, he is relevant to the overall race dynamics.
For the reasons listed above, incumbent Republican Rep. Liz Vazquez is the favorite to dispatch of David Nees in the August primary. That will leave an intriguing 4-way race between her, Independent Grenn, Democrat Cullinane, and Darden of the AIP.
This is where some electoral math comes in. Darden will probably pick up the same 5% of people voting for “anyone else at all” as he did in the Anchorage Assembly race.
The lowest a registered Democrat has received in the races we reviewed above was President Obama’s 38%. That means anyone who has a “D” next to their name on the ballot is probably good for 20% in this district regardless of how moderate and attractive a third candidate might be.
Similarly, the average Republican in this district has received 51.1% in recent elections, with the poorest showing being Parnell’s 47.7%. It is hard to see any circumstances in which the solidly mainstream Republican Vazquez gets less than something in the area of 37%.
That math adds up to Grenn needing every bit of the remaining 38% of the vote to beat Vazquez.
That is a tall order. As such, we are going to rate this “Lean Republican”, but at this point, it’s closer to a “Likely” rating than to a “Toss-up” classification.
Republican Primary Rating: Lean Vazquez
General Election Rating: Lean Republican
***Note: Race ratings are given on a patent-pending scale of Toss-up, Lean, Likely, Solid.***