Sitting Alaska Republican lawmakers face reckoning from voters in primary

A man in a camoflauge jacket and jeans walks through blue doors with notices about health warnings
A voter enters Inlet View Elementary School on Aug. 17, 2020, the last day of voting in the primary election (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s primary on Tuesday was a difficult night for Republicans who have a history of differing with Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Across Southcentral and Interior Alaska, challengers who generally had raised less campaign cash than the incumbents were at least holding their own. 

Senate President Cathy Giessel is trailing by a margin of more than two to one behind challenger Roger Holland. 

And by similar margins, Anchorage Rep. Chuck Kopp is trailing retired petroleum engineer Tom McKay and Rep. Jennifer Johnston is behind retired oil industry worker James Kaufman. ‘

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Another Anchorage Republican House member — Gabrielle LeDoux — is losing by an even bigger margin, to military contractor David Nelson. 

It would take a huge number of absentee ballots to reverse those results. More than 30,000 absentee ballots still must be counted. 

But it wasn’t just Republicans who caucused with Democrats or differed with Dunleavy who had a difficult night. 

The longest-serving House member, Mark Neuman of Big Lake, is down by 25 percent of the votes cast to challenger Kevin McCabe. McCabe is a cargo pilot. 

And Eagle River Rep. Sharon Jackson is losing by 18 points to family therapist Ken McCarty.

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In the races for federal office, independent Al Gross won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate and independent Alyse Galvin won the Democratic nominations for U.S. House. Rep. Don Young was renominated to be the Republican House candidate. And Sen. Dan Sullivan was unopposed for the Republican Senate nomination. 

Three Republican Senate races feature incumbents who are trailing lesser known challengers by smaller margins. 

In Anchorage, Natasha von Imhof is trailing Stephen DuPlantis. Von Imhof is an influential senator as the co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. DuPlantis has worked as a pastor.

In a district that stretches from Kodiak to Kasilof and Cordova, Gary Stevens is trailing John Cox, a Navy veteran. Stevens has a problem in that most of the absentee ballots are coming from the part of the district that Cox is winning. 

In North Pole, John Coghill is trailing truck driver Robert Myers. Coghill could be helped by having most of the absentee votes come from the part of the district he’s winning. 

Controversial Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman is running a few votes ahead of home builder Jesse Sumner. Sumner’s campaign raised more funds than Eastman’s. 

Ron Gillham appears to have won the primary to succeed Rep. Gary Knopp, who died recently in a plane crash. Gillham has operated heavy equipment on the North Slope and a fishing charter business. The local Republican Party have also named him as one of three nominees for Dunleavy to choose from to fill the vacancy, along with electrician Derek Leichliter and Alaska Mental Health Board member Charlene Tautfest.

Former Alaska Right to Life executive director Christopher Kurka is winning by a substantial margin over former Rep. Lynn Gattis to be the Republican nominee to replace Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard. And retired Tok teacher Mike Cronk has a large lead to replace Rep. Dave Talerico. Sullivan-Leonard and Talerico did not run for re-election. 

Voter turnout won’t be clear until the absentee ballots are counted next week. But 79,637 in-person votes were counted with all precincts reporting except Diomede, which had phone problems connecting with the Division of Elections on Wednesday. In addition, 32,132 absentee ballots had been returned through Tuesday. And another 30,361 ballots were mailed to voters — they need to have been postmarked no later than the primary election day to be counted. The state is on track to have better turnout than in the last two primaries, in 2016 and 2018. But the turnout may remain below that of the previous six previous, dating back to 2004.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect the correct name of the board Charlene Tautfest serves on. She is a current and not former member.

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

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