Murkowski, Peltola and Dunleavy projected to win Alaska elections

By James Brooks

Alaska Beacon

All three incumbents likely clinched final victory in Alaska’s statewide elections last Friday, as the Alaska Division of Elections updated results with thousands of additional absentee, questioned and early ballots from this fall’s general election.

Final unofficial results will not be available until 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23, when the division implements the state’s new ranked choice sorting system, but voting trends have made the results clear in most races.

With 264,994 votes counted, incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy had 50.3% of the vote for governor, well above his leading challenger, Democratic candidate Les Gara, who had 24.2%. Independent candidate Bill Walker had 20.7% and Republican challenger Charlie Pierce had 4.5%.

Friday was the deadline for absentee ballots sent from within the United States to arrive and be counted. Ballots are counted by the elections division’s five regional offices, and by the end of the day Friday, most offices had finished counting all ballots that had arrived through Wednesday.

A few hundred ballots sent from international destinations could be added to the count if they arrive by Nov. 23, but it appears all but certain that the remaining ballots are too few to alter the governor’s race, where Dunleavy has a margin large enough that ranked choice sorting will not take place.

In races where no candidate earns at least 50% of the vote, the lowest finisher is eliminated, and voters who supported that person have their votes redistributed to their second choices. That process continues until only two candidates are left, and the person with the most votes wins.

In the U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, no candidate is expected to finish with more than 50% of the vote.

For U.S. House, Democratic incumbent Mary Peltola had 48.7% of the vote, ahead of Republican challengers Sarah Palin (25.8%) and Nick Begich (23.4%) and Libertarian challenger Chris Bye (1.7%).

While the combined totals of Palin and Begich would surpass Peltola’s tally, a special election in August showed the number of Begich voters willing to support Palin with second-choice votes was too small for her to overtake Peltola. Pre-election opinion polling showed little change in opinions since August.

In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski led all challengers with 43.3%. Her main challenger, Republican Kelly Tshibaka, led on Election Day, but Murkowski erased that deficit by the end of the day Friday with late-counted absentee and early votes. By the end of the day Friday, Tshibaka had 42.7%, trailing by 1,658 votes out of 259,747 cast in the race.

When ranked choice voting begins, Murkowski is expected to receive the majority of the second-choice votes cast by supporters of the third-place finisher, Democratic candidate Patricia Chesbro (10.4%). Many supporters of the fourth-place finisher, Republican Buzz Kelley (2.9%), are expected to back Tshibaka, but those votes are not expected to be sufficient for Tshibaka to win.

Legislative races

Of the 59 races on the ballot for the state House and Senate, nine were unresolved Friday night, including two in the state Senate and seven in the state House.

Complete tossups

In South Anchorage, former Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel narrowly leads a three-way race that also features incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Holland and Democratic candidate Roselynn Cacy.

Giessel had 33.6% of the vote, Holland 33.1% and Cacy 32.9% as of Friday night. Elections officials said they had counted all early votes, questioned ballots and absentee ballots received through Wednesday, Nov. 16.

A relative handful of ballots remain uncounted in the race, which will be decided when elections officials calculate ranked choice sorting on Nov. 23.

Democrats and moderate Republicans seeking to create a coalition majority in the Senate have said they are waiting on the results of Giessel’s race.

“Because of that, there’s really not been a lot of definitive movement on (Senate organization),” said Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, and the only legislator not on this year’s ballot.

In the state House, two Anchorage races and one in the Mat-Su had no likely winner.

For the district surrounding the Alaska Zoo, nonpartisan candidate Walter Featherly has 45.5% of the vote, followed by Republicans Julie Coulombe (38.7%) and Ross Bieling (15.4%). Ranked choice voting will decide the winner of the race; if sufficient Bieling supporters chose Coulombe as a second choice, she will overtake Featherly.

In the district around Campbell Lake, Democratic candidate Denny Wells has 46.6% of the vote, leading incumbent Republican Rep. Tom McKay, who has 38.8% of the vote. A third Republican has 14.1% of the vote. Ranked choice sorting will result in many of those votes going to McKay.

In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, four Republicans are competing for a newly redrawn Wasilla district. Republican Jesse Sumner has 36.7% of the vote, but three other Republicans have substantial totals, and the race will be decided with Wednesday’s ranked choice sorting.

Likely winners

In addition to the four tossup races, there are five races that are unresolved but have likely winners based on voting patterns.

In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, incumbent Republican Sen. David Wilson has 44.5% of the vote in his race for re-election, but Republican challenger Stephen Wright has 29% of the vote and could overtake Wilson if he receives enough second-choice votes when fellow Republican challenger Scott Clayton (25.3%) is eliminated in ranked choice sorting.

In the House district covering Anchorage’s Government Hill and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Republican incumbent Rep. David Nelson has 44% of the vote, ahead of Democratic challengers Cliff Groh (35.3%) and Lyn Franks (20.3%), but Groh is expected to receive the second-choice votes of most Franks supporters. Those are expected to make Groh the winner.

In northeast Anchorage, just south of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Republican Stanley Wright has 50.7% of the vote in a head-to-head race against Democrat Ted Eischeid, who has 48.9%. The difference between the two candidates is just 67 votes, and late-counted absentee ballots have favored Democrats, but there likely are too few ballots remaining to be counted in the district for Eischeid to overtake Wright.

In East Anchorage, Democratic candidate Donna Mears has 50.1% of the vote in a head-to-head race against Republican Forrest Wolfe, who has 48.8%. The margin between the two candidates is 152 votes, and late-counted votes have gone in Mears’ favor, but some ballots remain uncounted.

In the district around Big Lake, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe has 45% of the vote. Republican challenger Doyle Holmes has 34.4% and Democratic challenger Joy Mindiola has 20%. It isn’t clear who — if anyone — Mindiola’s supporters have picked as their second choice.

Legislative victors

The remaining 50 races had clear winners as of Friday night:

Senate races

Senate District A – Incumbent Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, defeated Republican challenger Mike Sheldon, 68.8%-30.5%.

SD B – Incumbent Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, was unopposed.

SD C – Incumbent Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, had 56.2%, defeating two Republican challengers.

SD D – Republican Jesse Bjorkman had 45.8% of the vote in a three-way race also featuring Republican Tuckerman Babcock (41.6%) and nonpartisan candidate Andy Cizek (11.7%), each seeking to replace Republican Senate President Peter Micciche in the northern Kenai Peninsula. Cizek’s supporters are expected to favor Bjorkman with second-choice votes, and Babcock conceded victory to Bjorkman on social media the day after the election.

SD F – Rep. James Kaufman, R-Anchorage (54.5%), defeated Democratic challenger Janice Park (45.3%) in a race to replace Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage.

SD G – Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, won re-election to a midtown Anchorage seat, defeating Republican challenger Marcus Sanders by 13 points.

SD H – Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, conceded defeat to Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, on Friday in a West Anchorage race that was one of the most closely watched Senate races in the state. Claman had 51.9% of the vote to Costello’s 47.8%.

SD I – Democratic candidate Löki Tobin defeated undeclared-party challenger Heather Herndon by 34 points in the race to replace Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage.

SD J – Forrest Dunbar, a Democratic member of the Anchorage Assembly, had just over 50% of the vote in the race for a newly created state Senate district in Anchorage, defeating Democratic challenger and Rep. Geran Tarr (16.7%), and Republican challenger Andrew Satterfield (32.7%).

SD K – Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, won re-election, defeating Republican challenger John Cunningham by 16 points.

SD L – Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, defeated Rep. Ken McCarty, R-Eagle River, by almost 17 percentage points in the race to replace Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River.

SD M – Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes defeated Democratic challenger Jim Cooper by more than 52 points, one of the widest results in the state.

SD O – Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, defeated Republican challenger Doug Massey, 51.8-47%.

SD P – Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, defeated two Republican challengers by earning 51.1% of the vote.

SD Q – Sen. Robb Myers, R-North Pole, was re-elected after earning 62.6% of the vote against a nonpartisan challenger and a member of the Alaskan Independence Party.

SD R – Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, defeated a Republican challenger and an AIP challenger with 56.8% of the vote despite being censured by local Republicans.

SD S – Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel and the longest-serving member of the Alaska Legislature, won another term after receiving 64.6% of the vote.

SD T – Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, was the only legislator not subject to re-election this year. In all 59 other races, redistricting changed the boundaries of the legislative district enough to mandate a new election.

House races

House District 1 – Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, defeated Republican challenger Jeremy Bynum, 52.4-47.3%.

HD 2 – Nonpartisan candidate Rebecca Himschoot defeated Republican Kenny Skaflestad, 58.3-41.4%, in the race to replace Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka.

HD 3 – Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, was unopposed.

HD 4 – Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, won re-election by almost 60 percentage points.

HD 5 – Speaker of the House Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, defeated Republican challenger Benjamin Vincent by more than 22%.

HD 6 – Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, won re-election with 52.1% of the vote against two challengers.

HD 7 – Republican candidate Justin Ruffridge, a pharmacist, defeated Rep. Ron Gillham, 52.6-46.5%.

HD 8 – Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, won re-election unopposed.

HD 9 – Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage, defeated Democratic candidate David Schaff, 54.2-45.6%.

HD 10 – Republican Craig Johnson, a former member of the Alaska House, will return to the House after earning 51.5% of the vote in a race against a Libertarian and a Democrat.

HD 12 – Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, defeated Republican Jay McDonald, 59-40.1%.

HD 13 – Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, defeated Republican Kathy Henslee by 5% in a race that had been expected to be close. Henslee trailed by just 86 votes after Election Day, but late-counted absentee, early and questioned ballots favored Josephson.

HD 14 – Nonpartisan candidate Alyse Galvin, a two-time candidate for U.S. House, won election to the state House by getting 67% of the vote against Republican Nick Danger.

HD 16 – Democratic candidate Jennie Armstrong had 55% of the vote against Republican Liz Vazquez. Armstrong’s eligibility for office could be questioned in a lawsuit; a judge on Friday dismissed a legal challenge targeting Armstrong but suggested that it could be refiled after the race is certified complete.

HD 17 – Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage defeated Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, by just under 14% after the two Democrats in or near downtown were placed in the same legislative district during the once-per-decade redistricting process. Theirs was the only race where redistricted incumbents, put in the same district, both sought re-election. In all other cases, one of the incumbents dropped out before the election.

HD 19 – Democratic candidate Genevieve Mina defeated fellow Democrat Russell Wyatt by more than 52%.

HD 20 – Democratic candidate Andrew Gray had 54% of the vote in this four-way race that also included two Republicans and a Libertarian.

HD 23 – Jamie Allard, a Republican member of the Anchorage Assembly, won election with 61.5% of the vote in this race that also featured Republican Roger Branson.

HD 24 – Republican Dan Saddler, formerly a member of the state House, will return to the chamber after earning 52.6% of the vote in a three-way race that included Democratic candidate Daryl Nelson and another former Republican legislator, Sharon Jackson.

HD 25 – Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer and one of the longest-serving Republican members of the House, won re-election with almost 78% of the vote in a two-way race that featured another Republican.

HD 26 – House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton won re-election by the widest margin of any race in the state, defeating Libertarian Daniel Stokes by more than 62%.

HD 27 – Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, won re-election with 51.4% of the vote against two Republican challengers. Eastman still faces a legal challenge to his eligibility, and a trial has been set for December. Certification of his victory will remain on hold until the case is resolved.

HD 29 – Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, won re-election by 49%.

HD 31 – Democratic candidate Maxine Dibert had 49.1% of the vote in a race against Republican incumbent Rep. Bart LeBon (29.4%) and Republican Kelly Nash (20.7%). LeBon is not expected to pick up enough second-choice votes from Nash supporters in order to pass Dibert. Nash campaigned aggressively against LeBon and told supporters to not rank him second.

HD 32 – Republican Will Stapp won the race to replace Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, by earning 51.5% of the vote.

HD 33 – Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole, ran unopposed for re-election.

HD 34 – Republican Frank Tomaszewski has 49% of the vote against Democratic incumbent Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks (43.1%). A third Republican candidate is also in the race, and Tomaszewski will earn enough votes in ranked choice calculations to defeat Hopkins.

HD 35 – Democratic candidate Ashley Carrick has 53.5% of the vote in this West Fairbanks district, enough to win a four-way race to replace Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks.

HD 36 – Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, won re-election with 65.4% of the vote in this vast Interior Alaska district.

HD 37 – Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, ran unopposed for re-election.

HD 38 – Democratic candidate Conrad “C.J.” McCormick ran unopposed to replace Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel. A registered write-in challenger received less than 16% of the vote.

HD 39 – Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, won re-election with 51.2% of the vote thanks to late-arriving absentee ballots that leaned in his favor. At one point on Friday, he was ahead of AIP challenger Tyler Ivanoff by just three votes. Exiting the day, he leads by 108 out of 3,583 cast.

HD 40 – Independent Rep. Josiah Aullaqsruaq Patkotak ran unopposed for the seat and has won re-election.

This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.