House District 40 (Barrow/Kotzebue)
This is a repeat of the Democratic primary from two years ago when Rep. Ben Nageak beat Dean Westlake 53%-47%. In that race Nageak took Barrow, they split Kotzebue, and Westlake took many of the outlying areas.
This time around, Nageak looks to be in trouble, big trouble.
First, much as with Rep. Bob Herron, the entire Democratic establishment seems to have had enough of Nageak and his caucusing and voting like a Republican. It also didn’t help that Republicans have been vocal in their love of Nageak. Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt even went so far as to say during an AK GOP SCC meeting “Ben Nageak is one of the best Republicans we have in the Legislature.”
The Alaska Democratic Party, most union PACs, and a slew of elected Democrats and party activists have pumped almost $40K into Westlake’s campaign. Nageak has only raised about $12K and it has come mostly from industry PACs and Republican legislators.
The Second problem for Nageak is that one of his closest political allies, former North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower, was recalled by a wide margin this past spring for misuse of public money. Nageak was very vocal in his support of Brower. It’s hard to see how that doesn’t hurt him at the ballot box this time around.
As a general rule, we don’t rate incumbents any less than a “toss-up”. The advantage of incumbency really is so multifaceted and powerful that incumbents are almost never out of a race. There are exceptions, however, and this appears to be one of them.
The mixture of such a top-tier challenger, vigorous party opposition, and the Brower mess just seems like a too steep a hill to climb. In addition, we have heard reports that Westlake is far more popular and active in the key areas of Kotzebue and Barrow than he was two-years ago.
It really looks like Nageak’s days may finally be numbered.
Democratic Primary Rating: Lean Westlake