Republican Party members on the lower Kenai Peninsula joined a record turnout statewide in the party’s Alaska version of caucuses, the Presidential Preference Poll.
Voters in House District 31, which includes Homer, echoed statewide results, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz winning by 1.8 percent over New York businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump.
Cruz won with 38.4 percent to Trump with 36.6 percent, with Dr. Ben Carson in third at 12.3 percent. District 31 had 995 people show up to vote.
“We saw significantly more enthusiasm than four years ago when the total for this district was about 750 participants,” said District 31 chair Jesse Clutts of Anchor Point.
Final state results show Cruz winning with 36.4 percent of the vote. Trump followed closely with 33.5 percent, and candidate Marco Rubio finished in third with 15.13 percent of the vote. The other two candidates, Ben Carson and John Kasich, did not win enough votes to receive delegates from the state. Cruz will receive 12 delegates, Trump will receive 11 and Rubio will receive five.
Peter Goldberg, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, said the turnouts were out the door across the state. Even though the polling places started with 70 percent more ballots than they had four years ago, volunteers were having to run out and get more copies of the ballots and voter registration forms to keep up with demand, he said.
“I’m getting this report all over the state,” Goldberg said. “Not just the ballots, but people are switching from nonpartisan to Republican because they want to vote.”
In District 31, voters went to party-run polling sites at the Trailside Building in Homer, the Anchor River Inn in Anchor Point and the Soldotna Sports Center. District 31 includes the Kasilof and Funny River Road area. Cruz won Homer and Kasilof, but Trump won in Anchor Point. Ben Carson did better in Homer than Rubio.
Homer voter Jack Packer said he voted for Trump “because he’s a businessman. That’s what this country needs. It’s enough with the politicians,” Packer said.
Peggi Patton of Homer was even stronger in her support for Trump.
“I’m looking for change. It’s just status-quo politicians. I want someone in there who says, ‘You’re fired,’” she said. “He’s going to scare a lot of people. We need to scare people.”
One Homer woman who didn’t want to identify herself said she voted “for anybody but Trump.”
Tuesday’s poll is not the final decision for Alaska’s choice for president — the number of delegates from the state will be allotted to each candidate who earns more than 13 percent of the popular vote.
The delegates will then go to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, where the nominee for the Republican Party will be chosen.
District 31 holds its convention from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. March 19 at the Anchor River Inn where Republicans will elect delegates to the state convention April 28-30 in Fairbanks. The District 31 convention also will look at proposed changes to the state party platform and elect local officers. A $15 convention fee includes lunch and beverages.
About 550 district delegates will go to state. There, 25 delegates and 25 alternates will be chosen to attend the national convention in Cleveland. Party chairman Goldberg and national committee members Cynthia Henry and Ralph Seekins also will attend.
“We want people to represent the state in the most noble, mature and respectful way,” GOP spokesperson Suzanne Downing said of the national delegate selection.
Polls were open from 3-8 p.m. Tuesday. By 6 p.m., about 300 people had already voted at the Homer site, said volunteer Eileen Becker. Turnout was just as strong on the upper peninsula. When the polls opened at 3 p.m., there were already people lined up at Kenai’s New Life Assembly of God Church on Princess Street in Kenai. By 4:30 p.m., more than 1,000 ballots had been cast at that one location, said Neal DuPerron, one of the volunteers at the church. Soldotna Sports Complex had about 1,600 votes cast at the same time, he said.
“It’s been pretty nonstop,” he said Tuesday.
Though voters in Homer, Soldotna and Kenai voiced support for Trump, some voters in Nikiski preferred Cruz and Rubio. Brian Bielenberg of Nikiski, who voted for Rubio along with his wife, Heather, said he likes “the way (Rubio) handles himself.”
“Anybody’s better than Donald Trump right now,” he said. “We’re pretty simple people here. … Don’t really have much of an opinion on it, just Donald Trump’s an ass.”
Jim Graige of Nikiski voted for Cruz, who he met when he came to the Soldotna Sports Complex to stump for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan during the 2014 campaign. He said he shook Cruz’s hand and suggested he run for president.
“He’s not in a reality TV show, he’s not on the Apprentice show. I think he got where he is from hard work, he’s well educated,” Graige said. “You’re not going to back him into a corner so he won’t know how to respond, and I think he’ll do a good job for us.”
Peggi Patton’s husband, Bob Patton, said he had concerns about some Republican Party politicians saying they wouldn’t back Trump if he got the nomination.
“What gets me is the elected officials in the same party, some of them don’t want to vote what the primary polls are saying,” he said. “They should be looking for another job.”
The Alaska Democratic Party makes its pick for president in caucuses to be held 10 a.m. March 26. The location for District 31 Democrats is to be announced. For more information, call Liz Diament at 914-588-0332.
Voters must be registered members of the Democratic Party to participate, but can change party affiliation or register at the door.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peninsula Clarion reporters Megan Pacer and Elizabeth Earl also contributed to this report.
Alaska Democratic Party Presidential Caucuses
10 a.m. March 26
House District 31 (lower Kenai Peninsula)
Location to be announced
Call Liz Diament, 914-588-0332
Voters must be registered members of the Democratic Party to participate. Alaskans not registered as Democrats can change their party affiliation or register to vote at the caucus.
To help party officials plan for caucuses, voters are encouraged to preregister for the caucuses by visiting www.akdems.org or calling 907-258-3050