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Winners and losers in Alaska's primary election

Ben Anderson,Amanda Coyne
Cal William, a Democrat candidate running for Alaska House District 17, campaigning Aug. 28, 2012, in Anchorage. Alaska Dispatch staff
Word cloud based on statements of Alaska Senate candidates as published by the Division of Elections.
Alaska Dispatch illustration
Cal Williams, a Democrat candidate running for Alaska House District 17, campaigning Aug. 28, 2012, in Anchorage. Alaska Dispatch staff
Liz Vasquez and supporters waving signs on an Anchorage street corner on the eve of the primary election. August 27, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
Liz Vasquez and supporters waving signs on an Anchorage street corner on the eve of the primary election. August 27, 2012
Loren Holmes photo
State Sen. Lesil McGuire campaigns for re-election in Anchorage on Aug. 28, 2012.
Jill Burke photo

Voters sided with mining and oil companies in Tuesday's primary elections, rejecting a ballot initiative billed as giving Alaskans more control over development of their vast coastline. Ballot Measure 2 -- a measure that would have revived Alaska's Coastal Zone Management Program -- went down in flames, down more than 25 points Tuesday night.

Voters also began weeding out candidates running for the Alaska Legislature. With 59 of 60 seats up for grabs due to redistricting, the most heated competitions centered on the state Senate, where business is often determined by a unique bipartisan majority of six Republicans and 10 Democrats – an arrangement that’s disliked by many conservatives.

Of the four members of the Senate bipartisan coalition facing a primary challenge, it appears that two -- Sens. Tom Wagoner and Linda Menard -- lost their primaries. In Anchorage, Democratic Sen. Bettye Davis was clinging to a razor-thin lead over Harry Crawford with all precincts reporting.

2012 PRIMARIES: Up-to-date results

When it came to Prop. 2, a lack of fundraising seemed to take the wind out of the sails for the Alaska Sea Party, the group pushing for reinstatement of coastal management. The Alaska Sea Party raised only about $241,000 to promote the measure to primary voters. Its top two donors, at $25,000 apiece, were the Alaska Conservation Foundation and Bob Gillam, an Alaska money manager and anti-Pebble mine activist.

In comparison, the opposition group "Vote No on 2" raised about five times as much money -- $1.5 million -- which no doubt helped to defeat Prop. 2. Most of those contributions came from the mining industry, along with Big Oil -- Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil Corp., BP and ConocoPhillips.

In the end, it would appear that the money may have won out. About 38 percent of Alaskans voted in favor of the proposed program.

“We got outspent 10 to 1,” said Ron Clarke of the Alaska Sea Party, the group that sponsored the initiative. “We gave it a good shot, considering what we were up against.”

Bipartisan coalition

Most attention on Alaska's primary elections involved the state Senate, where four incumbent senators belonging to the bipartisan coalition faced challengers in their own parties.

The coalition has been under fire for, among other things, not passing Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell’s bill to slash billions of dollars in state taxes on oil companies. Parnell himself entered the fray in late July, confirming that he's going to campaign against Senate bipartisan majority members who've defied him on the tax cut.

"I'm much more interested in having people who want to serve together on behalf of Alaskans and grow our economy through less spending, less taxes and kind of that liberty mentality," Parnell told The Associated Press.

However, Parnell appeared to come out in support of one of the coalition’s more conservative senators, Wagoner of Kenai, in the final days leading up to the election.

Republican state Sens. Linda Menard, of Wasilla, and Lesil McGuire, of Anchorage, had both found themselves in the crosshairs of party challengers trying to dismantle the bipartisan coalition.

In the case of Menard, challenger Mike Dunleavy’s message must have resonated with voters in the conservative Matanuska Valley. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, he had about 58 percent of the vote to Menard’s 42 percent. He won on a platform against what he called Menard’s out of control spending, as well as her position on social issues, including abortion. Unlike Menard, Dunleavy believes abortion should be illegal in all cases, including in situations where the life of the mother is at risk. Menard’s stance is more moderate.

In Anchorage, McGuire faced opponent Jeff Landfield, who dogged her in the primary lead-up over her stances on state spending and for being part of the bipartisan coalition. Landfield lost his race to McGuire by about a 10-point margin. Landfield, a 27-year-old political newbie, was not nearly as well-funded as challengers in other Senate races, although the anti-McGuire rhetoric from his supporters flowed generously during the campaign.

On the Kenai Peninsula south of Alaska's largest city, incumbent Republican Sen. Tom Wagoner lost to Soldotna Mayor Pete Micciche by a surprisingly wide margin -- nearly 20 points. That race didn't involve as much drama over fiscal and social issues, but Micciche's employer raised some eyebrows. He's a manager for ConocoPhillips. Still, he actually ran on a platform of standing harder against proposed oil tax breaks than Wagoner.

The fourth bipartisan coalition member facing a challenger was Democratic Sen. Bettye Davis, the first and only black woman elected to state office in Alaska. Davis’s race was as close as could be, and she trailed in the early returns to former state lawmaker and U.S. House candidate Harry Crawford. Eventually, the race turned in Davis’s favor, and at the end of the night, she appeared to have won by only 75 votes. There will still be challenged and absentee ballots to count, and given the slim margin in this race, results may change.

Davis said she didn’t have any hard feelings with Crawford for running against her, but did feel he had “disrespected” her by challenging her in the primary. Additionally, though Davis was able to save some money in her campaign coffers, she is now sitting on less than she would have been if Crawford hadn’t stepped up to challenge her in the primary. Now she faces a tough battle in the general election against Republican House Rep. Anna Fairclough.

“My concern is that I raised pretty good money, but had to use that money toward Harry instead of toward Anna,” Davis said. “No hard feelings, but it’s going to make it harder. It’s going to be a difficult race no matter who wins.”

Davis praised the work of the bipartisan coalition, which some have seen as obstructionists in getting legislation passed. Davis, however, sees it differently.

“The working coalition has really helped the state, especially in preventing legislation that shouldn’t be passed,” Davis said. She pointed to House Bill 110 -- the oil tax package that could have resulted in billions in tax breaks for oil companies.

Other races of interest

In District C, which runs from Fairbanks to Valdez and touches into Palmer, Click Bishop was handily beating his opponents, former state Sen. Ralph Seekins and tea party activist David Eastman. Bishop held about 49 percent of the vote, Seekins 30 percent, and Eastman 21 percent. That’s with about 95 percent of the vote reporting.

Bob Bell, an Anchorage businessman, defeated former Chugach Electric Cooperative board director Liz Vasquez in a closely-watched Republican contest for a West Anchorage Senate seat.

In House District 17, with 100 percent reporting, Geran Tarr held a 109-vote lead against Cal Williams in the Democratic primary.

In the House race in Homer, incumbent Rep. Paul Seaton won against Jon Faulkner, by 55 percent to 45 percent.

For a full rundown of primary votes, check out the Alaska Division of Elections.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com , Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com