This district is a graveyard of Republican dreams. Like New Jersey in presidential election politics, this is a district the Alaska GOP always thinks it can win, but never, ever does.
It’s 2016, and once again Republicans feel there is hope. Long-time district Democratic Rep. Max Gruenberg passed away this spring and was replaced by the young Ivy Spohnholz. Spohnholz has never run for office and that single fact inspires Republican belief they can take the district with either of their Republican primary candidates Don Hadley or Lisa Vaught.
Will this finally be the year for Republicans?
As you can see in this table, this district is far more moderate than many areas of Alaska. Voter registration is much closer to parity between Democrats and Republicans than the state average. Statewide, Republicans hold an 11 point advantage, but in HD 16, that advantage is only 3.9 points.
|House District 16||State of Alaska|
|% Registered Republicans||23.2||26.0|
|% Registered Democrats||19.3||15.0|
Republican’s advantage in this district may be smaller than other areas of the state, but there is still some. Because of that fact, Republicans aren’t crazy to think they should be able to play in this district.
But look what happens when we go from how voters identify themselves to how they vote. Here is a breakdown of how HD16 has voted in the last two election cycles:
|Avg. Republican 43.5%|
|Avg. Democrat 50.4%|
Republicans go from a 4 point advantage in voter identification to a seven-point deficit in voting history. Those numbers say this is a significantly Democrat-leaning district.
Republicans can win here, but they will need a good candidate, solid organization, and a favorable election climate. They also must hope the Democrats offer none of those.
We use the term “incumbent” lightly. Rep. Ivy Spohnholz has never run for or received a single vote in this district. She was appointed to the legislature by Gov. Bill Walker on March 8th.
Because she has never run for office before there is no way of knowing what quality of candidate Spohnholz will be, though there are reasons to believe in her. She has impressed watchers of the Legislature since her appointment with her intellect, eloquence, and energy.
And Spohnholz has one asset few first-time candidates can boast of, a proven track record as a fundraiser. Before being appointed to the legislature she spent the previous decade leading “development” programs — that is non-profit code for fundraising —- for the Salvation Army Alaska Division and the University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA).
Republicans offer two challengers to Spohnholz, both of whom have previous, though unsuccessful campaign experience.
Don Hadley was the Republican candidate for this same house seat in 2012 and 2014, receiving 45% of the vote both times. He is a 74-year-old retired public school teacher who spent 27 in the Anchorage School District. His platform in his previous run centered around fixing public education and supporting resource development.
Lisa Vaught is a long-time legislative staffer, Republican activist , and campaign worker. She previously ran for State House against Rep. Chris Tuck across town in the Taku area of Anchorage. She lost to Tuck 54%-46%.
Neither of the Republicans have shown themselves to be dynamic or impressively articulate. The have both, however, shown that they can do the basics. They’ll rasie money, go door-to-door, and put forward a traditional and social media presence. For that reason, they can’t be completely discounted as threats to the incumbent-ish Spohnholz.
In terms of the Republican primary, the edge has to go to Hadley, who has run twice before in the district, and even beat a respectable primary challenger in Kevin Kastner just two years ago.
As for the general election, Spohnholz so far has the look of a quality candidate. She brought on board the capable campaign management team of John-Henry Heckendorn and his crew at Ship Creek Group and word is her early campaign events have been highly successful.
Marry a strong start by Spohnholz with lackluster Republican challengers in a Democrat-friendly district and you get a race that looks like Spohnholz’ to lose.
Republican Primary Rating: Lean Hadley
General Election Rating: Lean Democrat
***Note: Race ratings are given on a patent-pending scale of Toss-up, Lean, Likely, Solid.***