This is a really interesting race on so many different levels. There are real races in both the Democratic and Republican primaries that present so many different ways to view the race that just deciding on a paradigm to view the race through is the hardest part of evaluating it.
Nat Herz of the ADN did a nice write-up on the Republican side of this race. You can read it here. We won’t try to retread what Nat wrote, but rather evaluate the race.
On the Republican side there is quintessential millennial Jeff Landfield, the old-money — as much as Anchorage has any — Natasha Von Imhof, and the pretty much incumbent Rep. Craig Johnson.
Each has their own impressive assets that make it easy to see them winning.
Landfield is a young man who lives life to the fullest and fully shows it to the world on social media. At his best he is passionate, energetic, engaging, and enthusiastic. At his worst, he is just too much. Often he is both at the same time, but there is something oddly disarming and even charming there.
As a result, Landfield makes for a candidate that is hard to avoid out in the world. Though he has limited campaign cash, he excels at drawing attention through social media and traditional earned media (as this Anchorage Press cover story can attest.)
Landfield is the very definition of a “different” kind of politician. That could be a powerful asset if voters are in a mood to shake things up in Juneau.
Rep. Craig Johnson is the de-facto incumbent. When Sen. Lesil McGuire, for whom Johnson was a legislative staffer back in the day, decided to retire, Johnson moved up from his safe House seat to run for Senate.
Because of Johnson’s multi-year tenure in the House Majority Leadership, as Rules Chair, he is the known quantity in this race. If voters in the district like what Johnson has been doing and are looking for a safe choice and experienced hand to reliably oppose the Governor in the Senate, Johnson is the man.
Von Imhof is a Harvard-educated former Anchorage School Board member. She is also part of the well-to-do Rasmuson clan and her campaign financing reflects it. Her latest campaign financial report is easily the most impressive of any candidate in the state. She has already raised over $142K and very little of that is her own money.
Von Imhof is the hardest of the three candidates to nail down. Is she part of the political and business establishment and therefore competing with Johnson for votes? Or is she a first-time legislative candidate and outsider, thus competing with Landfield for votes? It’s hard to tell.
The way we see it, in this race Landfield has the energy, earned media, and union support, Johnson the name recognition and establishment support, and Von Imhof the money. That is a pretty even division of campaign assets.
So, who will win? We think all the tea leaves favor the incumbent-ish Johnson.
First, this is looking like a low turnout election. That favors the candidate known and favored by base super voters. In this case, the best guess is that group goes for Johnson.
Second, union support that could bolster Landfield with left-leaning independents is going to be divided by the active race in the Democratic primary. Every one of those voters that chooses to vote for Forrest McDonald or Roselynn Cacy is a vote that could have gone to Landfield.
Third, the math is in his Johnson’s favor. Part of what makes this Senate district so reliably Republican is that the district’s southern half, which is decidedly more conservative and happens to be Johnson’s house district, turns out at a far higher rate that it’s more moderate northern half. That magnifies Johnson’s incumbent-like advantage.
Those reasons are as good as any to make us think primary voters will come home to the name they know, at least enough of them for Johnson to claim victory.
Roselynn Cacy has been involved in Alaska politics and been an activist for progressive causes for decades, going back to working in Sen. Mike Gravel’s Washington D.C. office in the early 70s. She is running on a platform of providing experienced leadership in Juneau, protecting the PFD, and supporting new revenues as a solution to the state’s budget crisis.
Cacy has a good presence online and on social media and has received donations from a few notable Democrats including Harry Crawford, Pat Abney, and Pam Tesche. In a year of running, however, she only raised $18K, about $10K of which was her own money. That isn’t setting the world on fire.
Cacy’s opponent, Forrest McDonald is a young veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, who now volunteers as an EMT. He showed a pretty memorable sense of humor at the Alaska Democratic Presidential Caucus where he introduced himself to a room of Anchorage Democrats by apologizing for not being Forrest Dunbar.
McDonald comes off as humble, sincere, and dedicated, if a little green politically. That, and a very attractive resume, bolstered by military service, has apparently endeared McDonald to progressive insiders. His financial report shows a lackluster $22K in campaign cash raised (over $10K came from McDonald himself) but it included donations from Sen. Mark Begich, Rep. Chris Tuck (who represents half of district in state house), and several other high-profile Democrats and unions.
It would appear McDonald is the Democrat establishment’s choice for this seat. Based on that, his easy demeanor, and attractive personal narrative, we are rating this primary race as leaning towards McDonald.
With so many moving parts in the primary, it is hard to be too definitive in a general election prediction. Based on historical voting patterns that show the area to be Republican-leaning district and how we see the primaries playing out, we are currently rating this a Lean Republican district for the general election.
Republican Primary Rating: Lean Johnson
Democrat Primary Rating: Lean McDonald
General Election Rating: Lean Republican
***Note: Race ratings are given on a patent-pending scale of Toss-up, Lean, Likely, Solid.***