There are few who can lay claim to the term “All-Anchorage” more than Mike Gordon. The man best known for owning and growing Chilkoot Charlie’s from a seedy bar in Spenard into an Alaska institution; attended Anchorage High School before Anchorage was big enough need to designate schools as East, West, or South; served on Anchorage’s City Council back before the City of Anchorage and Borough of Anchorage unified into what we now know as “The Muni”. His resume literally reads as a history of Anchorage.
Now this man of Anchorage is throwing his hat into the ring to run for state house as a Republican, and he makes for an impressive candidate. Gordon has the kind of deep roots in the Spenard-area district that transcends politics by virtue of having lived and operated a business there for decades. He also sports the solid pro-business bona fides Republican bosses, voters, and more importantly deep pocketed donors, cherish in their candidates. It’s unlikely Gordon will be out spent or out home-towned.
Gordon is also already organized for a serious run. He has brought on board a qualified campaign coordinator, campaign consultant, and is holding fundraisers with big-name attendees. He is making it clear to the casual observer, he is in it to win it.
The question is can Mike Gordon beat Harriet Drummond, the Democrat incumbent? As impressive as many elements of Gordon’s candidacy may be, he will likely be fighting an uphill battle.
House District 18 is a rectangular box that includes Midtown, Spenard, and other West Anchorage neighborhoods. Those areas traditionally vote heavily Democratic. To illustrate, here is a breakdown of how the district has voted in the last two election cycles:
|Avg. Republican 36.7%|
|Avg. Democrat 56.7%|
That math is not an ally to Gordon. Before he raised his first campaign dollar or knocked on his first voter door he started off in a 20-point hole just by carrying an R next to his name on the ballot.
So can Gordon win? In short, Yes, but it’s a long shot.
Before the holidays I sat down with Gordon to get a sense of the man and his politics. The good news for Gordon supporters is he gets it. He is a Republican running in a deep blue district and his rhetoric reflects it. Gordon paints a picture of himself as a pro-business moderate interested in talking about the economy and state
budget issues. His website and facebook page are completely devoid of hot button social issues like gay marriage and abortion. By staying in this lane and avoiding far-right rhetoric Gordon hopes to maximize his personal connections, deep ties to the area, and local businessman street-cred to win over as many centrist or even left-leaning voters as possible.
Even with a well run, tone perfect campaign Gordon will still need help to win. After speaking to Republican strategists and activists there is a sense they will get just that help from Drummond herself. Those insiders see Drummond as inherently unlikable. They see her persona as abrasive and off-putting to voters in the district and will be counting on that disconnect to help drive voters otherwise not inclined to vote for a Republican to their hometown boy Mike Gordon.
It’s worth noting this is exactly the same kind of unlikability Democrats tend to project on Sen. Cathy Giessel and pin their hopes on for unseating the conservative senator from her conservative district every election cycle . To date, that perception has never manifested itself at the polls as Giessel continues to easily best her Democratic challengers one after another. WIll it be enough in a solidly Democratic district with the Democrat and solidly progressive Drummond?
Another large factor in this race will be the state fiscal crisis Drummond and her colleagues in the legislature will be asked to tackle. Even if the legislature and Governor are successful at addressing the issue at some level, it’s unlikely they will achieve a fully sustainable budget containing the kind of substantial cuts to services, new revenue sources , and tapping of the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve everyone knows is necessary. As a result the state fiscal situation is all but guaranteed to be the driving issue in elections this fall.
It is unclear if that favors Gordon or Drummond. Given this district’s voting history it is almost certain area voters overwhelmingly support the Governor’s expansion of Medicaid and opposes significant cuts to education and other state services. That will play in direct opposition to Republican narratives coming out of the legislative session, and that drumbeat of Republican rhetoric could prove to be a significant headwind for Gordon as the campaign plays out.
Overall, Gordon is for real. His candidate profile, organization, and messaging inspire confidence. He is primed to take this race as far as a Republican in this district can. Unfortunately, the truth is that still gives him no better than 1 chance in 3 of winning. The district is just that safe for Democrats.