It has been a rough week for the Alaska GOP and their effort to maintain control of the State House.
First, their all but certain lock on the Juneau house seat went up in flames when it was found out that Rep. Cathy Munoz (R-Juneau) decided to support sentencing leniency for convicted child rapists. (For those of you aspiring political consultants out there trying to figure out what makes for a successful campaign, let news reports containing your candidate’s name and the words “supports child rapist” serve as a warning sign.)
As if the Munoz flap isn’t bad enough, last night The Midnight Sun broke the news that the Democratic candidate running for state house in district 22, Ed Cullinane, was dropping out of the race. The incumbent, Rep. Liz Vazquez (R-South Anchorage) will now be taking on the fresh-faced, young Independent in Jason Grenn one-on-one in November.
This is big trouble for Vazquez, the AK GOP, and House Majority leaders. Grenn faced a steep uphill battle trying to take out a Republican incumbent, in a conservative-leaning district in a three-way race. Now Grenn, who was a registered Republican until just a few months ago, can count on almost all the Democratic votes in the district while battling Vazquez for Independents and moderate Republicans.
The bottom line is Grenn’s path to a victory in November just got a lot wider.
How wide is that path? Lets dig into the numbers.
First, the good news for Vazquez. She won her seat two years ago by a 57%-43% (or about 1,000 votes) margin. That victory came against Democrat Marty McGee who was reasonably active and well funded to the tune of $76,726.
In addition to her own race totals from two years ago, the district data looks good for Vazquez. In that same election, Sen. Dan Sullivan won the district by 439 votes, Rep. Don Young took it by 553 votes, and Sen. Mia Costello had a massive 1,731 vote margin. District 22 also has almost exactly twice as many registered Republicans, 3,666 (28.2%), as registered Democrats, 1,867 (14.4%).
Those are all numbers, plus the fact that she is the incumbent, that would suggest Vazquez has a significant upper hand.
Now, the good news for Grenn. He has a very defined and achievable path to victory.
In that same 2014 general election, Independent Bill Walker beat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell in district 22. He only won by four votes, but he did win. That gives Grenn a pretty good indication that his own Independent, Walker-esque campaign can be successful there.
Another set of numbers that are encouraging for Grenn’s hopes come from last spring’s Anchorage mayoral race. In that election, the combined vote for progressive candidate Ethan Berkowitz and Grenn booster and moderate Republican Andrew Halcro in this district was 59.89%. Then in the run-off between Berkowitz and conservative Amy Demboski, Berkowitz posted an almost identical 60.31% of the vote.
Grenn then only needs to secure votes from people who voted for Walker, Berkowitz, and Halcro to win. For a candidate as energetic and charismatic as Grenn, that is a very achievable goal.
Another interesting issue that could come into play in this election stems from that same mayoral election. Rep. Liz Vazquez hired former radio mouth Bernadette Wilson this past spring to ostensibly work in her legislative office, but really to run her re-election campaign. Wilson, you will remember, was the patient zero of the “Ethan supports incest” attacks on Berkowitz. There is nothing Democrats and unions love more than election materials warning voters about nasty attacks from their opponents as a way of “inoculating” their candidate from those attacks.
We can easily see a group supporting Grenn sending out mailers targeted to moderate and progressive voters warning that Vazquez had hired Wilson, reminding them of Wilson’s nasty attacks on Berkowitz, and telling them to watch out for such tactics in this race. On the surface, such a mailer would be an inoculation piece, but the actual effect would be to rouse the anger of Berkowitz voters towards Vazquez, motivating them to turn out and vote.
Grenn should also be buoyed by the general race dynamics. The 1,000 vote margin Vazquez won two years ago came against a candidate forced to have a D next to their name on the ballot. That undoubtedly cost him votes in the Republican-heavy district. Grenn, as an independent won’t have any Democrat identifier on the ballot hanging around his neck.
Additionally, the primary election results from last week show voters are both unenthused about voting but the ones who did exhibited an anti-incumbent, throw-the-bums-ut attitude. Those are good signs for challengers like Grenn.
Overall, this race now looks like a true toss-up with a defined and achievable path to victory for both candidates. Now, as wrestling coaches are fond of saying, it’s all about who wants it more.