Partisan hardliners likely won’t fare well under Alaska’s new election system. Here’s why.

Cathy Giessel, Roselynn Cacy and Roger Holland
The candidates for Senate District E are, from left to right, former Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel, Democrat Roselynn Cacy and incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Holland. (Erin McKinstry & candidate courtesy photos)

Roselynn Cacy got a political campaign mailer recently that urged her how to vote —  in her own Alaska Senate race. She’s a Democrat running in a three-way contest against two Republicans: Former Senate President Cathy Giessel and incumbent Sen. Roger Holland.

The mailer was a letter from former Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton, urging first pick votes for Cacy and second pick votes for Giessel. The fine print said Giessel’s campaign paid for it. 

“I appreciated it,” Cacy said. “But, I just was surprised when I saw Cathy’s involvement.”

It’s a new form of campaigning, one that makes sense with ranked choice voting. Giessel, Cacy and Holland are vying for Senate District E, which represents parts of South Anchorage, Girdwood and Whittier. They split the vote almost evenly in the primary, so whoever wins will probably need second-choice votes to cinch it.

In this year’s general election, almost half of the 59 state legislative races feature intra-party contests. This race is one of 24 between Republicans. It’s a result of the state’s new open primary elections, where the top four candidates advance to the general election, regardless of their parties. In this new system, the fervent partisanship that drove out less hardline Republican incumbents in 2020 like Giessel is now likely a liability. 

Roger Holland was part of that wave. He trounced Giessel almost two-to-one in the 2020 primary election. His message was that Giessel made too many compromises, most notably by reducing Permanent Fund dividends to get a budget passed. 

Working across the aisle hurt her in 2020. But for her comeback campaign, it’s likely helping. Giessel is now the frontrunner in the rematch against Holland. She said voters don’t want hardliners. 

“They are looking for people to vote for who are willing to work with everyone and not just a particular party,” she said. “You know, are you willing to work with everyone? Or are you locked into a particular political party’s policy or leadership or requirements?” 

Every district and race is unique, but political consultant Jim Lottsfeldt said in general, candidates who better align with the political center will appeal to more voters than candidates in lockstep with either partisan base. 

Lottsfeldt, who doesn’t have any clients in state level races this cycle, explained why. If you imagine a spectrum that’s red on one side, and blue on the other, then incumbent Holland would be furthest in the red, Giessel would also be in the red, but closer to the center, and Cacy would be in the blue. It’s easier for Giessel to draw votes from both sides of the spectrum than her opponents. 

“And so really, ranked choice — in most instances — sort of forces people to appeal to more voters, not just one wing, left or right,” Lottsfeldt said. 

He said that, plus Giessel’s robust campaign in Senate District E means, “It’s really turned into more of a rout for Cathy Giessel than anything else.” 

Giessel said Tuesday she had knocked on more than 8,600 doors in the district, and she’s noticing big changes.  

“Less than 10 people bring up the size of the dividend as their biggest concern,” she said. “That’s really different than 2020.”

Giessel said she embraces the Republican party’s core values of smaller government and fiscal restraint. But she didn’t seek the party’s endorsement this year. 

“I’m running for election on my own values, my own policy positions, not that of a political party,” she said. “I watched the last couple years the infighting that was happening, even among the (Republican) majority in the Senate. And again, this is not productive.” 

Holland said he’s not a fan of ranked choice voting, and many of the people whose doors he’s knocked on wonder, “How the hell did we wind up with it?”

Holland finished in third in this year’s open primary. If he loses the general election, he’s in a position to tip the scales for another candidate through ranked choice voting. 

“I’m a big believer in rank the red. And I do believe my race only has one red candidate in it, and that’s me,” he said. “My other Republican candidate supports an independent for the governor, and the independent governor she’s supporting has endorsed a Democrat for his second vote.” 

It’s a topic that makes him sigh with exasperation.  

Lottsfeldt said the public has embraced ranked choice voting in most areas of the state. 

“Holland’s not doing himself any favors by taking that position — it gives him no advantage,” he said. 

As for the other candidates’ own second picks, Giessel said she didn’t want to share. Cacy said she hasn’t decided yet, but respects both of her opponents.

If Lottsfeldt has it right, then Holland may be one of several hardliners to lose their election this year. 

There isn’t really a term for center-leaning candidates beating more partisan incumbents, but suggestions from Twitter include, “generaling an incumbent,” “winning from the center” or getting “ranked.”

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him at or 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremy here.

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