Winner: Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux
LeDoux had a lot riding on the outcome of Tuesday’s election. She spent months working at putting together a potential house majority organization with her as the power broker at its center. Heading into Tuesday night, that effort depended on something of an electoral goldilocks syndrome.
If Republicans held off Democrat challenges to their incumbents: Rep. Lance Pruitt, Rep. Liz Vazquez, Rep. Cathy Munoz, and Rep. Charisse Millett and took out just one Democrat / Independent seat, then Republicans could have formed their own majority without LeDoux and her allies: Republicans Rep. Paul Seaton and Rep. Louise Stutes.
On the other hand, if all Democrat incumbents won and they picked up four seats then they too could have formed their own organization without LeDoux’s crew.
So LeDoux needed Democrats and Independents to have a good night, but not too good.
Both of the best case Republican and Democrat scenarios seemed unlikely heading into Tuesday, but after the first few rounds of results streamed in, Democrats were on the verge of achieving theirs. All Democratic house incumbents were ahead, Independent Dan Ortiz was looking good, and Republican incumbents Pruitt, Millett, Munoz, and Vazquez were all on the verge of defeat.
Luckily for LeDoux, it looks now like Millett and Pruitt have pulled out the victory. That left neither GOP or Democrat power brokers enough votes to form a majority without Ledoux and Co.
Loser: Suzanne Downing and the Alaska Republican Party
Over a two-year period, the Alaska Republican Party has now lost the governor’s office, twice lost seats in the state house and now lost control of that body, and lost the mayor’s offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Mat-Su, Kenai, and pretty much everywhere else in the state.
What do all of those races have in common? It wasn’t any one bad candidate or slate of candidates and it wasn’t Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock, who only took office this spring.
There also isn’t any substantial indication Alaska is becoming more blue, Donald Trump just beat Hillary Clinton by 15 points in Alaska. That is slightly better than the 14 point victory margin of Mitt Romney over Pres. Barack Obama in 2012. Clinton also got only 36% of the vote compared to Obama’s 40%. So no, Virginia, Alaska is not purple. We are still all kinds of red.
What is the commonality to all of these losses? Suzanne Downing. She crafted the disastrous communications operation for Gov. Sean Parnell’s campaign in 2014 and has since run the Alaska GOP party’s communications apparatus. The strategy has been based around mean spirited half-truths and Breitbart.com-esque attacks on the party’s liberal and even some of its conservative opponents. It has been a race to the bottom that has separated the GOP from Alaskans of all political stripes rather than a forward-looking movement that connected with voters.
Downing has announced she is leaving the Party after the election, but if Alaska Republicans don’t recognize why her strategy was a failure and move away from it, they won’t recover from their losses anytime soon.
I know many Republicans don’t want me to be right about this. Some of you enjoy the momentary tingle you get from Downing’s sophomoric attacks on Governor Walker, Joe Miller, Mayor Berkowitz, Independents, and Democrats. But look at the scoreboard. Explain that.
Winner: Ballot Proposition 1 Backers
The PFD Voter Registration backers scored a pretty easy victory on election night. Prop 1 passed with 63% of the vote.
It is a little perplexing why many Republicans didn’t realize until the last minute why this is bad for them. It will register 70,000 new Alaska Native voters that are likely to vote for Democrats. That is going to have an impact in the Gubernatorial race in two years.
Also, think about this, Alaska legislative districts are all roughly the same population, 17,000-18,000. Yet conservative hotbeds in Anchorage have much higher voter registration numbers than liberal areas. For example House District 14: Eagle River has 16,094 registered voters and went for Trump by 57% of the vote. House District 19: Mountain View has only 10,440 registered voters and went for Clinton with 55% of the vote.
Prop one will automatically register to vote thousands more in those liberal areas of Anchorage than it will in conservative areas. This is likely to have a very material impact on the next Anchorage Mayoral election.
Even so, Republicans didn’t even suit up to fight Prop 1. Prop 1 backers raised $1.3 million to push their effort and Republicans had no organization or money to oppose it. There were some last minute gasps of opposition from conservative talk radio and some op-eds in newspapers, but that was about it. It was way, way too little far too late.
Mark our words, Republicans will regret not suiting up for this one.
Loser: Alaska Democrats
Given the last two sections, you are completely justified in furling your brow and asking how can Democrats be losers given the general winning streak and the structural advantages they are creating for themselves. They are losers because their incremental wins could have been a wave. They could have had their own legislative majority rather than yet another bipartisan coalition.
The close losses Democrats appear to have suffered to Rep. Lance Pruitt and Rep. Charisse Millett qualify as lost opportunities. And Democrat insiders are already grousing about what the problems is.
Here is what one Democrat campaign consultant told us yesterday:
“Both Harry Crawford and Pat Higgins got in early, camped out on the seat, and ran tired campaigns. If we could have recruited some more Jason Grenn’s, we would have picked up those seats.”
We’ve worked with enough party officials and political consultants to know that the reasoning in their eyes’ is that wins are always about great planning and strategy and losses are always because they had a lackluster candidate to work with.
That said, this consultant is right. Crawford and Higgins were both retreads, and tired is a good word to describe both. Neither ran energetic or inspiring campaigns. Is there anyone who thinks a quality new, young candidate of the likes of Grenn, Forrest Dunbar, or Rep. Ivy Spohnholz would have lost either of those races? No.
Democrats need to look to the future and recruit fresh-faced candidates, not look to the candidate scrap heap for standard bearers. If they had done that this time, they would have their own legislative majority rather than having to depend on Republican crossovers.
Winner: Joe Miller
Yes, technically he was a loser.
Regardless of all the hype Miller’s campaign was spouting about him having a chance to win, I don’t think his campaign was really about that. It was about allowing Alaska’s far-right voters to send Sen. Lisa Murkowski the message that she will get no free passes at re-election.
We wrote in mid-May before Miller got into the race:
“It’s as open a secret as anything in the state that hardcore conservatives don’t want, won’t let, absolutely can’t have Murkowski go unchallenged for re-election.”
By that standard, Miller’s run was a big success. Miller scored a very respectable 29% in a four-way race even though he faced at least a $3.5 million fundraising disadvantage. If you think Miller’s 29% is in any way an embarrassment, consider that the two Democrat-ish candidates, Margaret Stock and Ray Metcalfe, received a combined 25% of the vote.
The fact is Miller comes out of the race head held high knowing he held Murkowski accountable to her moderate record. His 29% also ensures he can emerge as something of a republican kingmaker in Alaska. No one, not even (or especially) the Alaska Republican Party, can validate conservative candidates like Miller could. He can be a major force as an endorser and organizer in Republican primaries and local non-partisan races.
The question is, will we embrace that role?
Loser: Alaska Family Council / Alaska Family Action
Jim Minnery’s group tried to get the word out for voters to reject the judicial retention of Justices Joel Bolger and Peter Maassen. That effort failed and pretty badly. Both received 57% in favor of their retention.
Winner: The Midnight Sun
We’ll do a separate “Where we were wrong-Where we were right” post. But for now, we’ll just say we nailed the 2016 Alaska general election almost perfectly.
Loser: Out of State Pollsters
A lot of national pollsters were releasing numbers showing Hillary Clinton and Steve Lindbeck close to victory in Alaska. If you listen to the Midnight Sun Podcast you know we were very skeptical of those numbers. Our skepticism proved well-founded.
The publically released polling numbers from out-of-state pollsters were all wrong as neither Lindbeck or Clinton got within 14 points of victory in the Last Frontier.