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Romney ekes out a narrow win in Alaska's Super Tuesday contest

Amanda Coyne
iStock illustration

Perhaps for the very first time in history, the Al Aska Shriners Temple was overflowing with people Tuesday night.

The temple on East Northern Lights Boulevard was one of the many places in Anchorage where Republicans cast their lot with one of the remaining GOP presidential candidates. 

And apparently all those Republicans were voting for everyone but Newt Gingrich, who enjoyed support from the Palin clan. With all of Alaska's votes tallied, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul came about as close as possible to splitting Alaska's 24 delegates up for grabs.

With 96 percent of the vote counted, Romney with 7.4 delegates beat out Santorum's 6.6 delegates by a hair. Paul picked up 5.9 and Gingrich, 3.2. A lonely delegate was reported as "undeclared" among Alaska's 24 but it appears the extra was awarded to Romney, based on final numbers from the Republican Party early Wednesday morning.

According to the Alaska GOP, fractional delegates are rounded up to the nearest whole number. That means:

  • Romney got 8 delegates
  • Santorum got 7 delegates
  • Paul got 6 delegates
  • Gingrich got 3 delegates

Three other "super-delegate" types -- Alaska Republican Party officials who get to vote for whomever they want -- will tip the balance one way or another. 

The GOP caucus scene

Cars lined the streets narrowed by heaping snow berms in the surrounding neighborhood, lines formed inside the building, friends met and occasional tension broke out in the crowd.

It was perhaps inevitable. Ron Paul fans aren’t known for cottoning to authority, and Alaska’s GOP, headed by Randy Ruedrich, if nothing else, runs a tight ship. Some might remember Ruedrich’s name. He’s the one who is possibly most responsible for giving rise to Sarah Palin, and although he never said as much, perhaps took the most glee from seeing her fall.

Tuesday night, Ruedrich accused the Paul supporters who were standing outside the temple holding clip boards of electioneering. Something they promised not to do.

Not so, they said. They were there doing exit polls.

Yes they were, Ruedrich said. “They’re liars,” Ruedrich said. “Ron Paul supporters are liars” he said.

Are not. Are too. And so on.

There were other sources of disagreements, like about how much each district was charging to sign up to be a delegate and other arguments about Byzantine party rules. 

Why such a messy business? 

Alaska has 24 delegates that supposedly get apportioned according to tonight’s vote. But the process, because of those party rules, is less exact that then numbers would indicate. 

Ruedrich and other establishment Alaska Republicans will travel en masse to the state convention, where promises are made, allegiances are struck. The outcome often depends on which delegates have a stronger voice, and who can stand up to whom at the state convention. 

With all the wheeling and dealing, sometimes the delegates are not, in fact, apportioned according to the vote tally in March. The process can be pretty messy, and will no doubt be even messier this year, when no candidate seems to be able to scratch that particular Republican itch.

In this election cycle at least some, even those party faithful, don’t mind one bit. Longtime GOP stalwart Kirk Wiskersham cast his vote as “undeclared” on Tuesday. He even wore a name tag telling his fellow voters as much. What he’s hoping for is a brokered convention.

Wiskersham, like so many others in the rest of the country, just can’t get totally behind the current crop of candidates.

He declined to say who he might support if a brokered convention came to pass. Or if another candidate decided she (or he) might be ready to jump into the ring.

But former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman wasn’t as circumspect. Leman, who did vote for one of the candidates on Tuesday, was at the Shriners temple volunteering to help process the new Republican Party registrants, about 400, he figured.

“Paul Ryan!” Leman, who is always more charming in person than on television, said with a twinkle in his eye. When asked if that was on the record, he said, “Say that he supports Paul Ryan, with a twinkle in his eye.”

After the vote, many headed upstairs, where they paid $50 to make their case to be state delegates to the state convention and where they would confront those Byzantine party rules.

Because she was told she had to leave or else pay the $50 like everyone else, this reporter relied on texts from a Ron Paul supporter to recount was going on up there. Apparently, songs were sung. Prayers were prayed. Confusing committees were being formed.

“Loren Leman looks as lost as I am,” the Paul supporter wrote.

Contact Amanda Coyne at Amanda@alaskadispatch.com