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Progressive candidates hold fundraising edge in most key races for Legislature (Part 1)
First, let's look at seven key Senate races that will go a long way to determining the kind of Senate we get next year.
Good evening, Alaska!
In this edition: After much foot-dragging, let’s start to wrap up our look at the fundraising reports in the race for the Alaska Legislature… just in time for the next round to come out. Today’s edition will take a look at the state of fundraising in seven key Senate races, complete with charts.
Next time: Let’s break down the House races.
Current mood: 📉
Progressive candidates hold fundraising edge
Today’s belated post will start to wrap up our look at the 30-day fundraising reports for the legislative races… just in time for the seven-day reports to be out next week and two weeks until the primary election, which just so happens to be about one of the lowest-stakes primary elections the Alaska Legislature has ever seen. All but one of the 59 legislative races on this year’s ticket (remember Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, gets this year off thanks to redistricting) have four candidates or fewer in the primary election, which means that all but one candidate in the race for Fairbanks’ House District 35 will automatically advance to the general election.
Still, the fundraising reports give us our first, good look at where the momentum is in the race to control the levers of power in the Alaska Legislature. The last four years should also serve as a good reminder about just how important the Alaska Legislature is in shaping policy—or at the very least checking the worst impulses of a governor.
In very broad strokes, Democrats and progressive independents in key races—the ones that will determine whether the House keeps its bipartisan coalition and whether Republicans hold onto their splintered Senate majority—have taken strong fundraising leads against their conservative opponents. That’s particularly true in Anchorage and Fairbanks where progressives hold commanding fundraising leads in every competitive race and aren’t that far behind in typically conservative districts.
Of course, fundraising doesn’t automatically translate to votes. There have been plenty of campaigns that turn out to have been bad investments come election day.
That said, the introduction of ranked-choice voting throws a lot of the traditional wisdom about these races out the window. Where the semi-closed party primaries required candidates to appeal to their base, ranked-choice voting should elevate the importance of groups of voters that were once overlooked. That 20% to 30% of voters in Eagle River who regularly vote for the Democrat really don’t matter all that much under the old system, but now they’re up for grabs in a race between four Republicans. Money could go a long way to reaching out to new and untapped groups of voters.
Anyway, today’s write-up was starting to get really long with the 15 legislative races I was highlighting, so today’s will be looking at the key Senate races:
As it currently stands, the Senate has 13 Republicans and one Democrat organized into its majority. Six Democrats make up the minority. The Republican majority, however, has a long-standing rift between hardline conservatives and moderate Republicans that could make an opening for a bipartisan coalition. The Republicans haven’t exactly done themselves a lot of favors with bitter primaries that have targeted its “moderate” members (people like John Coghill and Cathy Giessel).
The underlying numbers: Thanks to this year’s round of redistricting, Democrats stand to pick up two Senate seats in the Anchorage area (one being competitive and the other as close to a gimme as can be) while Republicans are hoping that this’ll be the year to send Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki packing after 16 years in office. There are five more races that are essentially intraparty challenges that will go a long way to determining the flavor of representation for those districts, with implications for any potential bipartisan coalition.
Senate H — Anchorage Sand Lake/Turnagain
The big headliner of those races is over in West Anchorage where Democratic Rep. Matt Claman’s fundraising is nearly an order of magnitude larger than incumbent Republican Sen. Mia Costello. Redistricting paired Republican Sens. Costello and Natasha von Imhof together with von Imhof deciding to bow out (more for personal reasons rather than the race itself) in a district that is far bluer than either Republican saw before. While von Imhof has been one of the chamber’s moderates, Costello has positioned herself as a Very Conservative candidate that labor groups are largely pinning the blame on for the failure of the retirement legislation this year.
Claman, who has always been a powerhouse fundraiser, has raised a whopping $110,789.92 from 281 individuals and 13 groups. That’s a figure we’d typically see by general election day and not three months out. Meanwhile, Costello’s fundraising is anemic for an embattled incumbent with just $14,330.25 raised from 59 individuals and 4 groups.
Senate P — Downtown Fairbanks/Badger Road
Kawasaki has been a thorn in the side of Republicans ever since he won his House seat in 2006, which the GOP responded to with a brazen effort to give him the boot during the 2010 round of redistricting. The latest round hasn’t made things any easier with a larger chunk of the conservative Badger Road area added to the district. In terms of fundraising, though, Kawasaki reports $23,710.00 raised from 26 individuals and 12 groups but doesn’t appear to have any significant fundraising after the legislative session. Fairbanks Republican Mayor Jim Matherly is the challenger here with $19,555.00 raised from 80 individuals.
The last big-ticket Senate races won’t have an impact on the R-D balance in the Legislature, but they will have a big impact on the flavor of Rs and Ds in Juneau and therefore the possibility of a bipartisan coalition.
The race for Senate District E—the South Anchorage seat that was swept up in the redistricting shenanigans at the last minute before the courts put the kibosh on the board’s plan—pits incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Holland against former Republican Senate President Cathy Giessel (as well as Democrat Roselynn Cacy). Giessel has had a consistent march of fundraising over the campaign cycle and currently sits at $47,025.00 raise from 116 individuals and five labor groups. Holland, who found himself on the outs with the party for a minute over the trans athlete bill, has raised just $11,710.00. Democrat Cacy has raised $4,435.52.
Calling Giessel a “moderate” would have been unthinkable before the election of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, but she quickly became a hero for refusing to fall into line with the governor’s proposed draconian cuts. She worked well with Minority Leader Tom Begich to get things done and a budget passed but came under fire from the party and eventually was shown the door in the 2020 Republican primary. Whether she’s game for a bipartisan coalition will depend greatly on who’s in the governor’s office.
The race for the vacant Senate District J—which covers Anchorage’s Mountain View and U-Med areas—sees three of the four candidates in a virtual tie with $600 separating Democratic Rep. Geran Tarr ($7,809.14), Democratic candidate Drew Cason ($7,454.00) and Republican candidate Andrew Satterfield ($7,202.68). Anchorage Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar, however, has outraised their combined total with $25,417.01 raised from 178 individuals and two groups with most coming in the two weeks before the reporting deadline.
There’s a lot of folks who are not particularly jazzed at the prospect of a Sen. Tarr, as evidenced by the aides who went on the record to call her an abusive boss. They’re likely, then, happy to see Anchorage Assemblyman Dunbar with a commanding lead in the race. While Dunbar gets branded as a bombastic liberal by right-wingers, he, like most of the Anchorage Assembly, is more moderate than most would think.
Former Dunleavy chief of staff and architect of the unconstitutional loyalty pledge firings Tuckerman Babcock leads the way in the fundraising race to fill the Kenai Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Peter Micciche with $78,000 from 189 individuals and four Republican groups. Republican Jesse Bjorkman, a teacher and member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, is the main challenger in the race with $21,760.39 in fundraising from 46 individuals and two contributions from the APEA/AFT and NEA groups.
The schism among Republican legislators and those bitter party primaries can largely be traced back to Babcock. He’s gunning for a hardline pure-Republican majority that would likely be lockstep with a Republican governor. It’s also worth pointing out that Micciche’s lone contribution to a candidate is to Bjorkman, which would be a $100 in-kind contribution for letting Bjorkman borrow his sign stand lumber.
With the retirement of Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold, the seat is wide open for a challenge primarily between Republican Reps. Kelly Merrick and Ken McCarty. McCarty is the party favorite after Merrick broke from the ranks to join the bipartisan coalition, where she held the powerful position of House Finance Committee co-chair (and brought home loads of capital project spending). Thanks to a lot of help from labor groups, Merrick holds a commanding edge in terms of fundraising with $64,275.00 to her name from 80 individuals and a whopping 17 labor groups. McCarty has raised about half of that with $26,896.36 from 42 individuals and no PAC contributions. The race also has Republicans Joe Wright and Richard Clayton Trotter, who’ve raised a combined $5,000.
Judging by the interest from the labor groups, Merrick is one of the best hopes at electing a coalition-friendly Republican. Like other coalition-friendly Republicans, Merrick would have likely been toast in a Republican primary but now stands a far better shot at winning with Ballot Measure 2.
Finally, Republican Sen. Mike Shower has raised $12,632 from 28 individuals to defend against Republican challenger Doug Massie, who retired from a 25-year career as a state trooper earlier this year. Massie has raised $15,450.00 from 28 individuals and has received a single contribution from the PSEA PAC.
While I can’t say much about what a Sen. Massie would be like, Sen. Shower has been a conservative blowhard with some wild ideas about how elections should be run.
And everything in one hard-to-read spreadsheet
You can see all the data that I used to create this write-up here.
I had hoped to create a version that would allow anyone to play around with the data but there’s some limitations with how Google Sheets displays information to the public. You’ll be able to view it all with the above link but if you want to sort and filter it, you’ll have to make a copy (directions are in the spreadsheet).
If you have any questions, though, feel free to reach out!