Make no mistake, election day on Tuesday will decide control of Alaska’s state house.
Two outcomes are at stake. Either the Republicans will be able to organize around their conservative principles while adding a few rural democrats to their organization or a group of Democrat and Republican moderates on each side will cobble together a majority made up mostly of Democrats.
An analysis of where house races and where the potential majority coalitions stand shows this fight is effectively tied heading into election day, with a few key races poised to tip the balance either way.
First, lets look at where the state house majority organization stood at the end of their many regular and specials sessions.
Here is how things lined up then:
So let’s reset the field back out to where they would be at the beginning of an organizing process.Last session, the Republican-led Majority had a pretty hefty lead over the Minority. But this breakdown is of limited help in projecting the makeup of the future majority coalition. Under this prior scheme, plenty of rural Democrats joined an already established 23-member Republican group.
Democrats are back with Democrats and Republicans with Republicans. The only Independent in the House, Rep. Dan Ortiz, is off by himself. We lump Rep. Lora Reinbold back in with the Republicans. Sorry, Republicans.
Now we factor in the results of the primary elections. In those August elections, both Republican and Democrat partisans knocked off members of their own parties willing to organize with the other side. Republicans took out Rep. Jim Colver with George Rauscher and Democrats beat Rep. Ben Nageak with Dean Westlake and Rep. Bob Herron with Zach Fansler.Following party lines, the Republican lead shrinks to 23-16-1.
The other major factor to look at is that pesky Musk Ox coalition the Republican Party hates so much. They were a group of six moderate Republicans and rural Democrats who have broken off at various times in the past two years to work with the Minority. With the defeat of Rep. Jim Colver, the Musk Ox coalition is down to five members.
It is widely believed in the next legislature they will try to organize with the Democrats to form a bi-partisan majority. In the table below we have broken them out as a separate column. Independent Rep. Dan Ortiz is shown back organizing with the Democrats, as he currently is.
If the Musk Ox want to organize with the Democrats, however, things get tight. In the above analysis, a Musk Ox and Democrat coalition would be tied with a Republican lead organization at 20 votes.You can see that if the Musk Ox decide to organize with the Republicans, nothing short of a massive “wave” election, full of Democrat upsets, can result in a Democrat majority coalition.
Now lets factor in the competitive races. According to how we see things, there are seven races with Lean Democrat, Toss-Up, or Lean Republican ratings, meaning either side could easily win the contest.
Here is a breakdown of how we seat each house seat. For this chart, we use only party affiliation and not organizational likelihood. Note that seats without incumbents are listed by district.By this analysis, there are 8 seats up for grabs. Whoever wins a majority of them probably wins control of the state house.
This doesn’t help with house organization, but it does give you a sense of where we see each race.
Least Likely To Flip
Rep. Stutes, Rep. Munoz, Rep. Claman, Rep. Millett, and Rep. Pruitt and Rep. Drummond all have races where there at least a decent argument to make for why they could lose.
Rep. Louise Stute’s Kodiak-Cordova Seat
Stutes is in a three-way race with Democrat Brent Watkins and Non-Partisan Duncan Fields. Fields raised $42K and has ties to the Republican establishment in this Kodiak-Cordova fishing district, so he can’t be written off. We hear from folks on the ground, however, that his commercial fishing has hampered his ability to campaign. Stutes also fits this district well, so we think she has a strong chance of being reelected. It is a three-way race, though, and with those anything can happen.
Rep. Cathy Munoz Juneau Seat
Munoz seemed like a lock to be reelected until news of letters she wrote in support of lenient sentencing for child abusers broke in late August. It has now been two months and it looks like that scandal has subsided. Also important to note is that even with all the heat Munoz was getting over the letters, it never cost her the strong support of her allies in the labor movement. A moderate Republican in a moderate district with the support of labor is hard to beat in Alaska.
If Munoz loses, no one will wonder why, but it looks like she is back on track to win another term.
Rep. Harriet Drummond’s Spenard Seat
Last year we wrote about how darn near unwinnable Drummond’s district is for a Republican.
Drummond’s challenger Mike Gordon has given it a great effort and has raised a hefty $151K. However, nothing about our evaluation has changed.
A Republican needs a perfect storm to win this district and Gordon hasn’t drawn one. If anything, the climate is worse than normal, as this is likely to be a difficult year for Republicans in Alaska.
Rep. Matt Claman’s West Anchorage Seat
This is a good seat for Republicans to target. It is a moderate district and Claman has a history of underperforming it. He beat very conservative Anand Dubey here two years ago by only 90 votes. Looking at the dynamics of this district, that margin should have been far larger.
The problem is we don’t think the Republican candidate Marilynn Stewart has done enough to win. Even though she has been running for almost a year, she has only raised $53K to Claman’s $114K. And there has been little in the way of independent expenditure spending for Stewart. We think lackluster independent expenditure support is an indication party and industry leaders have polling that she isn’t likely to win. What we are hearing on the ground supports that conclusion.
Rep. Charisse Millett’s Abbott Seat
Millett represents a moderate, almost suburban Anchorage district. It is a seat Democrats should be targeting to flip whenever they can. Yet every year they seem to send either Pat or Patti Higgins at Millett (this year it’s Pat Higgins’ turn), and she always dispatches them by about 8 points.
The election climate this year should scare the bejesus out of Millett. It is an anti-establishment, anti-incumbent year. It is the worst possible year to have the words “Majority Leader” next to your name that defines you as both.
Both Higgins and Millet are well-established in their respective political parties, so it is a bit perplexing that neither raised more than $40K. Likewise, independent expenditure groups have stayed away from this race.
We think that is an indication everyone is expecting this district to go for Millet once again. We don’t see any reason to disagree with that. We wouldn’t be shocked if the margin is much closer this time around, maybe 2-3 points, but Millett probably, but not certainly, returns.
The Races That Really Could Go Either Way
Liz Vazquez’ South Anchorage Seat
All logic says this race is Vazquez’ to lose, after all she is a conservative running in a heavily Republican district. She isn’t, however, the most likable or charismatic of candidates.
Vazquez’ challenger is Jason Grenn, a moderate backed by the likes of Andrew Halcro and Forrest Dunbar. That support just screams “Independent who will work with Dems.” Grenn is a kid who grew up in the district and has mastered the young, energetic, change-maker vibe. This is a good year for that message.
The word on the street from both sides in this race is Grenn is close, if not ahead. That would be quite a coup for bipartisan majority makers. We see the race the same way as just about everyone else does: a toss-up.
Lance Pruitt’s East Anchorage Seat
Rep. Lance Pruitt has done a good job solidifying support in this moderate East Anchorage district since being elected in 2010.
Pruitt faces this district’s previous House Rep. Harry Crawford in the general election. Crawford is a quality opponent on paper but hasn’t shown much campaign magic since leaving his seat to run for Congress, in 2010.
Frankly, until May 31st this race looked like an easy win for Pruitt. What happened then on May 31st you ask? That was the day AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami announced he was running for State Senate against Sen. Cathy Giessel.
Since Giessel’s district includes Pruitt’s district, that race will greatly impact Pruitt and Crawford’s. Beltrami seems to have brought an army of door knockers, phone bankers, and envelope lickers with him. Every one of them will aid the down-ticket campaign of Crawford.
That up-ticket tailwind takes this from an almost certain Pruitt victory to a real race. Pruitt once looked like the frontrunner, but we now think this race is too close to call.
Adam Wool’s Fairbanks Seat
Rep. Adam Wool won his first term in the legislature two years ago with a five point win over Republican Pete Higgins.
The district is a moderate one a Republican can easily win. Republican Sen. Click Bishop won the district by over 1,800 votes two years ago.
Republicans have what they think is a quality candidate in Aaron Lojewski. Lojewski, however, has raised a measly $38K in over a year of campaigning. That small haul and a lack of independent expenditure interest in his race is a bad sign for Lojewski.
We think this race is Wool’s to win, so we have put it in the Lean Democrat column. But it is just barely on that side of the rating from toss-up. We wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out Lojewski has spent his time doing door-to-door work rather than fundraising and pulls out a win. In fact, in this week’s The Midnight Sun Podcast, pollster Matt Larkin gives us some data to support that result.
We think Wool is the most likely winner here, but it isn’t a sure thing.
Rep. Dan Ortiz’ Ketchikan Area Seat
Ortiz is a former school teacher who is extremely well-liked in his district. The problem is he is an independent who organizes with the Democrats, but he represents a pretty Republican-heavy district.
Republicans have targeted this district with plenty of resources and independent expenditure groups from both sides of the aisle have been dumping money into this race. Since we don’t live in Ketchikan, we are hesitant to make a prediction about how folks down there are viewing all the outside money spent on this race.
One problem for Republicans is named Ken Shaw. He is the Alaska Constitution Party candidate, but also a longtime Republican and father of Alaska Republican Party District 36 (Ketchikan) chairman Trevor Shaw. Some Southeast race watchers think Shaw could pull a few points of the Republican base away from the Republican candidate Bob Sivertson.
So there are reasons for both Republicans and Democrats to think they should win this race.
We see this as a true toss up, meaning we have no idea which way it could go.
If you want to know who is going to control the state house next year, those are the races to watch Tuesday night. Republicans need to keep Pruitt, Millett, and Vazquez’ seats and Democrats can’t lose Ortiz, Claman, or Wool.
If both sides do exactly that, we put our money on Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux to form a bipartisan majority. So, tie goes to Gabby.
What isn’t mentioned are the requirements for caucus membership. If they remain the same and the legislature continues to exempt itself from state open meeting law and to allow committee chairs defacto veto power by refusing to hold hearings on legislation, how can the situation improve regardless of which caucus dominates? Those membership requirements (Vote for the final budget and to vote with caucus leadership on all procedural votes) coupled with a very predictable decline in revenues from decreasing oil production and/or declining oil prices are what so badly damaged the fiscal posture of Alaska. Also, none of these scenarios will automatically give the necessary 2/3 necessary in both the House and Senate to vote to spend the last of the CBR or the 3/4 vote to override any veto by Governor Walker.
Regarding Stutes vs Fields: Of the $46,000 Fields has raised, $25,000 is his own money. He’s been fined $76,000 by APOC for late/incorrect filings. He is not in the voter pamphlet because his campaign did not get the info submitted on time. Fields is a lousy campaigner, does not go door to door, does not visit Kodiak’s 10 processing facilities and practices politics of personal attacks. Stutes is everywhere. The District 32 head of the Democrats did a real disservice by not backing a solid candidate in Watkins and instead opted to back the opportunist Fields, a solid Republican who is running as an Independent so he would not have to primary Stutes. Cordova and Kodiak will Stick with Stutes. Fields is a Flop.