One of our first orders of business in rating legislative races is to figure out which primary challengers are for real and which ones are just names on a ballot.
After evaluating over a dozen primary races we are now ready to call a few of them. These are races where The Midnight Sun analysts feel the dynamics are such that one of the candidates simply does not face a serious threat.
Also worth noting is that all of the races listed below are Republican primaries in districts that offer either no Democrat challenger in the general election or are so Republican leaning that the Democratic challenge is irrelevant.
It pains my heart to say that about one Democrat challenger Greg “G.I. Jones” Jones, but it’s true.
As such, we are placing all three of these races in the “Solidly Republican” rating for the general election.
House District 13: Eagle River / Chugiak
Of the three races we’re discussing today, this is the closest to being an actual race. Incumbent Rep. Dan Saddler faces an active challenger in the young Myranda Walso.
It is our philosophy that political campaigns are first and foremost about the incumbent and that is even more true in a primary race. If people are generally satisfied with what they have then there is no reason to look at the alternative.
This is a situation where that appears to be the case. Rep. Saddler offers consistently conservative representation to a consistently conservative district and provides adequate constituent services. There is no indication folks in Eagle River are pushing for a change.
On top of that Saddler looks to be popular among his Republican colleagues in the House Majority Caucus, the business and resource development communities have no issues with him, and the Alaska Republican Party establishment went so far as to offer him a pre-primary endorsement over Walso.
This all paints a picture of an incumbent Republican that no one is clamoring to get rid of.
As for Ms. Walso, while she has shown herself to be an active campaigner and is omnipresent at political events, there are simply no signs she is building a winning coalition in the Republican primary.
Rep. Saddler will be heading back to Juneau this fall.
House District 7: Wasilla
There are no incumbents in this race by virtue of Rep. Lynn Gattis ascending to run for the State Senate seat Sen. Charlie Huggins had occupied. On paper, this is an intriguing match-up of first-time legislative candidates Colleen Sullivan-Leonard and Brandon Montano.
The intrigue quickly leaves the race once the candidates and their campaign efforts are examined.
Sullivan-Leonard has been around politics her whole life, serving on the Wasilla City Council and Planning Commission, working for the Alaska State Legislature and Governor’s Office, and belonging to Alaska’s Sullivan political dynasty that includes former Anchorage Mayors George Sullivan (her father) and Dan Sullivan (her brother).
Mr. Montano, on the other hand, doesn’t list any political experience on his campaign website. That isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for someone to run for office in Alaska and particularly in this anti-establishment election climate, but it is a stark contrast to the political royalty of Sullivan-Leonard.
The problem for Mr. Montano is there are no current signs of life to his campaign. He has no campaign facebook page and his campaign twitter account stopped tweeting in mid-February. In two days of discussions with Wasilla area politicos we were unable to find anyone who had seen or heard of any movement from his campaign.
Just to be clear, going unseen and unheard isn’t a winning strategy for a political campaign.
This no longer looks like a race. Sullivan-Leonard will be Wasilla’s next representative.
House District 8: Big Lake / Port Mackenzie
This race follows a bit of the logic from both races listed above. Incumbent Rep. Mark Neuman strikes a conservative tone that fits this district well and challenger Mike Alexander doesn’t appear to be mounting much of a campaign.
Neuman has served the area in the Legislature since 2004, rising to Co-Chair of the powerful House Finance Committee. Neuman isn’t dynamic, either as a policy maker or candidate, but he does know how to represent the libertarian brand of conservatism found in his Western Mat-Su district. He is an established, some might say entrenched, incumbent and it would take a real challenger to knock him off.
Mike Alexander isn’t showing himself to be that. We can’t find a campaign website and his Facebook page only has 13 likes. Alexander also wasn’t part of either the Americans for Prosperity or Mat-Su Business Alliance’s candidate forums this week and from talking to those who attended, he doesn’t seem to have made an appearance at Republican shindigs put on by former Wasilla State Senator Lyda Green in recent weeks.
The simple fact is, there is little evidence Alexander is doing any of things someone needs to do to take out a well-known incumbent.
Until we see signs of life from Mr. Alexander, we aren’t considering this a race.