By Jim Ellis
Aug. 21, 2018 — Voters in the Last Frontier and Equality State choose their nominees today, and even though these are small, single-member US House states, important primaries fill the election docket.
With no US Senate race on the Alaska ballot, voters are coming to the polls to choose nominees in both major parties to oppose the nation’s lone Independent governor, Bill Walker.
While coalescing with the Democrats to pass a major portion of his political agenda, Gov. Walker’s plan to take advantage of a new state election law that would allow an Independent candidate to also enter one of the major party primaries went awry when a familiar Democrat came forward to announce his candidacy just as the filing period closed.
Former US senator and ex-Anchorage mayor Mark Begich stepped forward in a somewhat surprising move at the filing deadline to declare his candidacy for governor. Knowing he would be doomed in the Democratic primary against Begich, Gov. Walker retreated to run only on the Independent ballot line once again with his running mate, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, a former Democrat who was elected mayor of two municipalities and ran the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation, the entity that pays oil royalties annually to every Alaska resident.
The Republican gubernatorial field features former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy and ex-Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. Businessman and founding Alaska Economic Development Corporation president Scott Hawkins withdrew from the race after Treadwell entered, reasoning that he no longer had a clear opportunity to draw a direct contrast with Dunleavy. Therefore, though minor candidates also adorn the Republican ballot, the race is now realistically just between Dunleavy and Treadwell, with polls favoring the former.
In a three-way race with Begich, who is unopposed in today’s Democratic primary, and Gov. Walker on the Independent line, the Republican nominee will have a real opportunity to take advantage of split loyalties among Democrats and Independents, meaning solidifying the Republican base might be enough to win the succeeding general election.
In the at-large congressional race, the nation’s longest serving House member, Rep. Don Young (R-Ft. Yukon), who was originally elected in a 1973 special election, runs for a 24th term and is the heavy favorite both in today’s primary and for the general election. Likely to emerge from the Democratic primary is education reform activist Alyse Galvin.
All the action is in the Republican primary, both at the US Senate and gubernatorial level.
In the Senate contest, incumbent John Barrasso (R) is in the process of fending off a credible intra-party challenge from investor Dave Dodson. The latter man has spent well over $1.5 million on his race, investing $1 million of his own money.
Dodson is running against a “broken Washington”, and promises to better prioritize Wyoming’s interest than has the senator. He also attacks Barrasso for being the “14th wealthiest senator,” but it is unclear whether Dodson would actually be higher on that particular chart if he were to deny the incumbent re-nomination.
It is likely Dodson will dent the senator’s vote percentage, but Barrasso should easily again obtain the party nod. If successful, Sen. Barrasso will then face former Teton County School Board member and ex-US House candidate Gary Trauner in the general election.
Sen. Barrasso is a heavy favorite to return to Washington for another six-year term. He was originally appointed to the seat after Sen. Craig Thomas (R) passed away in 2007. He was then elected in 2008 to fill the unexpired portion of that term, and was re-elected to a full term in 2012.
The other key race is for the open governor’s position as incumbent Matt Mead (R) is ineligible to seek a third term. Six candidates are on the Republican ballot, but the race is actually among three of the contenders: state Treasurer Mark Gordon, investment fund founder and national Republican donor Foster Friess, and attorney Harriet Hageman. The primary winner becomes the favorite to defeat the Democratic nominee in the fall. Among the four Democratic candidates, the only one to have held any office is former state Rep. Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne).
In the at-large House race, freshman Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wilson/Jackson Hole) has two Republicans and two Democrats running against her, but none will be able to mount a viable campaign. Rep. Cheney is a lock for re-election to the statewide seat that her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, won six times.