Even though last Tuesday might have been one of the more important elections in recent memory -- with 59 of Alaska’s 60 legislative seats up for grabs -- Alaskans themselves seemed less than enthused. As reported by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times' number-crunching political blog, voter turnout in the Last Frontier declined by nearly a third from the 2008 presidential election.
As of Monday, prior to the counting of many early and absentee votes, more than 100,000 fewer Alaska voters came to the polls for this year's election than in 2008, when Barack Obama won his first presidential term.
Then again, in 2008, Mark Begich took on the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, and in the beginning of the winter and going into the summer of 2008, Obama had a small army of those earnest, vaguely apolitical, techno-geeks camped out in offices across the state, working that Obama magic in the Last Frontier. That was until then-Gov. Sarah Palin was picked as Republican John McCain's running mate. The next day, the Obamaites took their techno toys and left in tears and never came back, while Palin turned into what she turned into. Obama ended up only taking 38 percent of the vote in November 2008, with about 66 percent of registered Alaskan voters casting ballots.
Anyway, misty-2008-Obama-Stevens-Palin-digression-complete, this time around Obama earned 41 percent of the votes in Alaska, compared to GOP challenger Mitt Romney's 54 percent.
That's the strongest showing in Alaska by a Democratic presidential candidate since 1968, the year Richard Nixon was first voted into office. Nixon earned 37,600 of the 84,902 votes cast that year in Alaska, or about 44 percent of the popular vote. The Democratic challenger, Hubert Humphrey, got 35,411 votes, representing a little less than 42 percent of voters.
Even the 2010 election saw a higher turnout than last Tuesday's vote, but that could also be attributed to the highly polarizing U.S. Senate race between Republican primary victor Joe Miller and incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who ran as a write-in candidate in the 2010 general election.
Regardless of turnout, there were a couple of things that made Obama's strong showing in Alaska surprising last Tuesday:
First, local elections showed a strong sway toward Republican lawmakers; a state Senate previously comprised of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans will now have at least 13 Republicans. The race between Alaska Democratic state Sen. Hollis French and Republican challenger Bob Bell has yet to be decided, as absentee and questioned ballots remain to be counted, separated by fewer than 250 votes. An update on those counts is expected mid-Tuesday.
Second, the number of Democrats registered in Alaska has declined for decades, while the number of registered Republicans has increased significantly. As of October, the number of Republicans in Alaska was nearly twice the number of Democrats.
Perhaps the main pre-election indicator that could have clued analysts in to Obama's surprising showing in the state was the perennial elections bellwether: fundraising. Obama outraised Romney in Alaska during this election cycle, as the Alaska Public Radio Network reported in mid-October.
Already looking ahead
In other political news, Politico reported what everyone in Alaska already knows: There’s a Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell-sized 2014 target on Sen. Begich’s back. Even Begich himself knows this. Whenever he’s asked who is going to run against him, he says, “who isn’t?”
The Daily Kos also calls Begich's seat "...the GOP's No. 1 pickup opportunity" in 2014.
Good luck with that. Even though Begich is a Dem, he’s an Alaska Dem, one of the state’s best politicians and he’s risen quickly in the ranks of the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate. But expect the drumbeat to increase, particularly as Begich negotiates with his party to bring something good home to throw in his challenger’s face. Federal offshore oil revenue sharing?
In addition to Treadwell, the name also being floated in the national media is Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, which is so adorably naïve of those reporters. Everyone knows Sullivan likes to mosey up to a stool instead of onto a plane.
And then there’s Joe Miller. Actually, can we please not talk about him? Strange things happen to Alaska Dispatch when his name is evoked. Like, its editor getting handcuffed for one.
Anyway, notably absent from the shortlist of possible Republican challengers to Begich are Gov. Sean Parnell, who’s up for reelection in 2014, and another Dan Sullivan, this one being the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
Word is, however, that Parnell actually likes his job and Sullivan actually likes Alaska.