Presidential race heads to Alaska in March

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Alaska’s major parties will pick their candidates on different days. The Republicans will choose theirs on March 1st, also known as Super Tuesday. That’s because it’s the day that the largest number of delegates will be picked this year.

Alaska will have the same number of delegates as much larger states, such as Oregon. That’s because Alaska has voted heavily Republican in previous federal and state elections. Party Chairman Peter Goldberg said the combination of voting early and being heavily Republican gives the party outsized sway.

“Even though by population we are a tiny state, we have disproportionately large influence upon the ultimate selection,” he said.

Alaska Democrats will hold their caucuses on March 26th, the same day as Hawaii and Washington state.

In the caucuses, voters who support each candidate will gather in a corner of their polling place before casting ballots.

Just like the Republicans’ delegate count was strengthening by previous elections, the Democrats’ count is lower than other small-population states, based on past performance.

Alaska Democratic Party Executive Director Kay Brown says the party has been energized by having a competitive nominating process, between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. “I think that it makes it more interesting to people – the fact that there’s a contest and it certainly will generate interest by the campaigns in turning people out to take part in the caucuses,” she said.

Goldberg says Republicans also are capitalizing on a competitive primary season by increasing their registration.

“People in Alaska, the Republicans in Alaska, are very excited and I’m finding that just on the phone calls that come to me that people are switching to the Republican party. It’s at least once a day that some Democrat is calling me and saying, ‘How do I switch?’ “

But while there is early excitement about the election in the state, few national campaigns have invested resources to build up campaign organizations in the state. On the Republican side, Ben Carson and Marco Rubio have state campaign coordinators.

Sanders also has a coordinator based at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Matt Dean, a Republican activist, says the state will always struggle to receive large investments from presidential campaigns. “It does take a little bit of a time to get your base spread out to every state you, know, and especially, why I bring up the electoral process, Alaska only has three electoral votes,” Dean said. “I mean I do understand from a strategic standpoint, I did used to work on campaigns. Um, but it is very nice to see when people at least make the effort to get up here.”

The Republican preference poll and Democratic caucus will divide the state’s delegates proportionally. But the elections don’t actually determine who will travel to each party’s national convention. The delegates will be chosen in local conventions, which also begin in March.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at

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