Moderate Republicans and Democrats appeared likely to win several seats in the Alaska Senate from more conservative Republican incumbents and challengers Tuesday night, increasing the odds that the Alaska Senate will be controlled by a bipartisan coalition in January.
If Election Day trends hold, Democrats would gain two seats from the Senate’s current makeup.
Of the 20 seats in the state Senate, 19 were on the ballot this year because of Alaska’s once-per-decade redistricting process.
Preliminary results Tuesday night showed Republicans leading in 11 of the 19 and Democrats leading in eight. (Democrats also control the one seat not up for election this year, the one held by Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin.)
The closest head-to-head race is in West Anchorage, where Democratic Rep. Matt Claman is challenging Republican incumbent Sen. Mia Costello and led Costello narrowly, by 139 votes out of more than 13,000 cast.
In South Anchorage, a three-way race between Republican Sen. Roger Holland, former Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel and Democratic candidate Roselynn Cacy is almost precisely split into thirds, with Giessel and Holland both having 34% of the vote and Cacy having 32%.
In close head-to-head races, a winner may not be known for a week or more. Tens of thousands of absentee ballots and early votes cast in person before Election Day have not yet been counted.
Ballots may arrive as late as 10 days after Election Day and still be counted, or as late as 15 days after Election Day for ballots mailed from overseas.
In addition, this year’s election uses ranked choice voting, and the final sorting process for races with three or more candidates and none reaching more than 50% of the initial votes will not take place until Nov. 23, adding another layer of uncertainty.
Political poller Ivan Moore, speaking on an analysis program hosted by the Alaska Landmine website, said he believes the preliminary Senate results “make a coalition in the Senate very likely.”
“I think it’s a win for balance. I think it’s a win for moderates,” he said.
Two Anchorage races head to ranked-choice sort
The West Anchorage election featuring Claman and Costello is likely to be decided by late-counted votes. As of Monday night, 4,271 absentee and early votes in the district had been received by the Division of Elections, and many of those remained uncounted early Wednesday morning.
Elections officials have previously said they intend to release updated results next Tuesday and next Friday but could also release additional incremental tallies before then.
Democrats spent heavily to flip the seat from Costello, helping make it the most expensive state Senate race in Alaska. Third-party groups also bought ads on both sides of the race.
The three-way South Anchorage race among Holland, Giessel and Cacy isn’t the only one that will be decided by ranked choice voting. Democratic Anchorage Assembly member Forrest Dunbar leads a three-way race for Senate District J in Mountain View with just under 49% of the votes cast. The seat is a new one, created in the redistricting process, and it effectively replaces a Republican seat elsewhere in the city that was held by Sen. Natasha von Imhof, a Republican.
Dunbar’s two opponents are Republican Andrew Satterfield, who has 35% of the vote, and Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr, with just over 16% of the vote.
If that margin holds until the 23rd, when the ranked choice vote sort takes place, it likely will result in Dunbar’s victory, with second-choice votes from Tarr supporters lifting his total in the Democratic-leaning district.
In a head-to-head race for South Anchorage Senate District F, Republican Rep. James Kaufman led Democratic candidate Janice Park by a margin of 55.9% to 43.9%. Kaufman’s lead of 1,432 votes out of 12,295 cast appeared to be enough to ensure victory in the head-to-head race, even with more ballots yet to be counted.
As of Monday night, the Division of Elections reported about 3,926 absentee and early votes cast in the district. Many were not included in the Election Day tally.
If his victory is certified, Kaufman will replace Republican Josh Revak in the state Senate.
In Senate District G, which covers most of midtown Anchorage, Democratic Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson led Republican challenger Marcus Sanders by 899 votes out of 9,610 cast. Sanders raised less than $5,200 for his campaign and ran about 10% behind Gray-Jackson, who had been expected to win the Democrat-leaning district.
In downtown Anchorage’s Senate District I, Democratic candidate Löki Tobin led undeclared candidate Heather Herndon by more than 32 percentage points. Tobin was the policy director for Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, who held the seat until announcing his retirement shortly before the candidate registration deadline.
Longtime Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski was on pace to win re-election in Senate District K, with more than 56% of the vote against Republican John Cunningham.
Merrick overcomes Republican critics
In Eagle River, Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick leads fellow Republican Rep. Ken McCarty by more than 16 percentage points in the race for Senate District L, currently held by Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold.
Reinbold has been one of the most staunchly conservative members of the Senate, while Merrick was one of only two Republicans to join the House’s multipartisan coalition and campaigned on the need to elect someone who can work across party lines.
Merrick was censured by local Republican Party officials but raised significantly more money than McCarty, and her victory has the potential to significantly alter the balance of power in the Senate if she chooses to again join a coalition majority.
Kawasaki leads in Fairbanks
Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki led Republican challenger Jim Matherly by 383 votes on election night, or about 5.3% of the 7,258 cast in the race, but the race isn’t decided yet.
Critically, Kawasaki has just under the 50% threshold needed to avoid ranked choice voting. A third candidate in the race, Republican Alex Jafre, has 464 votes, and though Jafre asked his supporters to pick Kawasaki for their second choice, if they select a fellow Republican instead, it could be enough for Matherly to win.
Many absentee and early votes remain to be counted in the race as well, adding to the uncertainty.
In the two other Fairbanks-area Senate races, the result is certain, even with more votes to be counted. Incumbent Republican Sen. Click Bishop had more than 56% of the vote in Senate District R, which includes a vast swath of Interior Alaska, and incumbent Sen. Robert Myers had over 64% of the vote in his North Pole-area Senate seat.
Conservative Republicans lead in the Mat-Su
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough appeared to favor its conservative incumbents on Tuesday, with Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes receiving more than 76% of the vote.
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, held a smaller lead over Republican challenger Doug Massie. Shower had 52.4% of the vote, to Massie’s 46.6%. Write-ins accounted for the remainder.
In the third Mat-Su seat, incumbent Sen. David Wilson had 44.1% of a three-way contest featuring two other Republicans.
Kenai, Kodiak and rural Alaska stay with moderates
Republican candidate Jesse Bjorkman appeared on pace Tuesday night to upset fellow Republican Tuckerman Babcock, a former head of the Alaska Republican Party and former chief of staff to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in a race to replace Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna.
With 15 of 17 precincts reporting, Bjorkman had 46% of the vote to Babcock’s 42%. Nonpartisan candidate Andy Cizek had about 11% of the vote, and observers believe many of Cizek’s votes will go to Bjorkman during the Nov. 23 ranked choice sort.
Babcock campaigned in favor of a strong Republican-led Senate majority, while Bjorkman emphasized the need to work across party lines. By phone on Tuesday night, he declined to say whether he would join a coalition if elected, explaining that many votes remain to be counted.
In the south Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak, incumbent Sen. Gary Stevens had just over 55% of the vote in a race against two Republican challengers. In Southwest Alaska, Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman, the longest serving member of the Alaska Legislature, remained on track to win another term, having earned about 63% of the vote with 53 of 59 precincts reporting results.
Southeast Alaska races uneventful
In Southeast Alaska, Democratic Sen. Jesse Kiehl was unopposed for the Senate seat covering Juneau and northern Southeast Alaska. In southern Southeast, incumbent Republican Sen. Bert Stedman was on pace to resoundingly defeat Republican challenger Mike Sheldon.
“I’m ahead of him on everything but Courtview,” Stedman said of Sheldon on the Alaska Landmine show, referring to the website that lists court records.
Correction: The initial version of this article incorrectly labeled Democratic candidate Löki Tobin as the former chief of staff for Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich. She served as his policy director.
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