Party heads analyze red wave in Alaska elections
A red wave swept Alaska on Tuesday — according to unofficial results, it appears not only is the state's next governor a Republican, but leadership in the state House and Senate will be too.
Republicans appear to have secured 23 seats in the House, two more than the necessary 21 to take control. The results are similar to those of the 2016 election, in which Republicans had more members, but lost control after three broke away to join a Democrat-lead caucus.
Tuckerman Babcock, chairman of the Republican Party says this year's outcome is different.
"These results were a concentrated effort at increasing the number of actual Republicans," Babcock said in a joint interview with Jay Parmley, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party on Daybreak Wednesday morning.
"We do not count in that 23 Gabrielle LeDoux," Babcock said of the East Anchorage Representative, who was one of the three Republicans to break ranks in 2016. "So, 22 is what we think we have."
For his part, Parmley urged against drawing any conclusions about House leadership, just yet — with margins just as slim as they were two years ago.
"I think it's just too early to tell exactly the way this is going to play out," Parmley said. "The numerical advantage would give it to the Republicans, but the numerical advantage gave it to Republicans two years ago."
Hours later, on Wednesday afternoon, 20 Republicans held a press conference announcing their organization of new leadership. Missing from the event were Republicans David Eastman (Wasilla), Louise Stutes (Kodiak), and Gabrielle LeDoux (Anchorage).
Rep. Dave Talerico (Healy), who identified himself as the new House Speaker, said Eastman was not present because he was in another building taking a phone call — and that Stutes had been invited to join the new caucus, but LeDoux had not.
Both the Republican Party and Democratic Party made efforts to oust LeDoux in the November 6 election, but unofficial results show she's held on to the seat.
"I think it's hard to win with a write-in," Babcock said of the party's campaign against the incumbent. "But I look at LeDoux, not even 40-percent of the vote. Sixty percent of her district said 'we're done with you,' that means a lot to me."
"We had a Democratic candidate in that race," Parmley noted. "It was interesting in that LeDoux caucused with the Democratic majority. And we had a good candidate, it was a very close race."
When it comes to the governor's race, however, the margin between candidates was substantial.
Now with a 9 percentage point lead, Republican Mike Dunleavy has already declared victory, ending a nearly year-long campaign for the seat. By contrast, Democrat Mark Begich joined the race in June.
"I don't know that the length of the campaign played a role, as much a role in this race as just the interesting dynamic of this race," Parmley said. "You can't talk about a gubernatorial campaign being sort of normal or average in Alaska."
It was a three-way race for most of the summer until Gov. Bill Walker announced late last month that he was dropping out.
"All of these dynamics are at play, and I think you have to sort of put it all in the package and go 'this all had an impact,'" Parmley said. "And if anything, I'll say that for Dunleavy being in the race, a year probably helped him in that regard."
Babcock says he thinks the length of Dunleavy's did put him at an advantage in that he was able to meet with more people around the state during that time.
"A number of things for Mike — One was the Mat-Su Borough came out in large numbers and they gave him huge margins," Babcock said. "So, Sullivan won his seat against Begich for the U.S. Senate, margin for district in the Valley [was] around 2,00 to 2,300. But Mike Dunleavy is 3,000 to 3,500. You add that up over six districts, it begins to build a pretty good lead. And he did well in rural Alaska too. He didn't carry rural Alaska, but a lot closer to Mark Begich than previous elections."
Dunleavy received criticism, particularly from Walker, for his absence from debates, including ones he had previously committed to attending. When asked whether he thought that was a smart strategy on Dunleavy's part, Babcock replied"
"Well, I think that the flip side of that, was it a smart strategy for Governor Walker to try to run as a petition candidate, and avoid all the debates in the primary?" Babcock said. "Was it a smart strategy for Mark Begich to file on the last day? There's all sorts of issues and strategies."
When asked whether he thought the outcome of the race might have been different if Walker had left the race sooner, Parmley said:
"That summer was a long slog for everybody. It was a three-way race for so long, when it became a two-way race, the enthusiasm gap on our side changed dramatically. I'm glad we had Mark Begich running because very few people could take advantage of that opportunity to sort of galvanize a base of people and make this a real campaign with just 2.5 weeks to go," Parmley said. "We lined up, we did the best we could."
Dunleavy's term as governor begins Monday, Dec. 3 at noon, as outlined in the state constitution.
The next legislative session begins Tuesday, January 15 in Juneau.
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