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Ruffridge and Bjorkman hold leads in State House, State Senate races

Republicans Justin Ruffridge and Jesse Bjorkman at KDLL-Peninsula Clarion joint candidate forums this fall.
Ashlyn O'Hara
The Peninsula Clarion
Republicans Justin Ruffridge and Jesse Bjorkman at KDLL-Peninsula Clarion joint candidate forums this fall.

With absentee ballots still to be counted, Republican candidates Justin Ruffridge, of Soldotna, and Jesse Bjorkman, of Nikiski, are leading by a few hundred votes in their respective races for the Alaska Legislature against Republican Party-endorsed candidates.

As of results updated early this morning, Ruffridge leads incumbent Republican Rep. Ron Gillham for the House District 7 seat, representing Kenai and Soldotna, with under 53 percent — a lead of 347 votes.

Ruffridge sits on the Soldotna City Council and owns Soldotna Professional Pharmacy. He said Wednesday he’s spent the day taking down campaign signs around town with his family.

“Obviously, there’s still votes to be counted and elections to be certified in a couple of weeks,” he said. “But we’re certainly feeling really grateful and confident that we ran a good campaign and that those numbers are bearing that out.”

Gillham, who has served in Juneau since 2020, said he’s waiting to see what the remaining ballots have in store.

“We’re not quite finished yet. We still have some ballots coming in,” he said. “But even if I don’t win, it kind of opens up some other options.”

He pointed to other open local races, including the upcoming special election for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor, and said he’s not done with politics yet.

In the Senate District D race, to represent the northern Kenai Peninsula, Nikiski Republican Jesse Bjorkman is leading Soldotna Republican Tuckerman Babcock with 46 percent of the vote to Babcock’s 42 percent — a difference of 572 votes.

Andy Cizek, a nonpartisan candidate from Soldotna, has just over 11 percent of the vote so far. The votes cast for Cizek will be redistributed between Bjorkman and Babcock on Nov. 23, when the Division of Elections starts tabulating races, per the new ranked-choice system.

Bjorkman is a teacher at Nikiski Middle/High School and member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

“We’re cautiously optimistic — there’s still a lot of votes left to count,” Bjorkman said. “But we’re very thankful for the thousands of voters across District D and the central peninsula who came out to support my candidacy and who cast their votes for Jesse Bjokrman. I am going to do my absolute best in representing your interests in Juneau.”

Babcock is the former chief of staff to Gov. Mike Dunleavy and former chair of the Alaska Republican Party. He said while there are still thousands of votes to count, he believes Bjorkman will come out on top, based on the results so far.

“And I want to congratulate him and wish him the best in his new role,” he said. “And it’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to meet people from Bear Creek up to Cooper Landing and all the way up to Nikiski."

While their opponents were endorsed by state and local Republican groups, Bjorkman and Ruffridge together picked up a handful of local endorsements from across the political spectrum.

“Jesse worked very hard, just like me, a lot of door-to-door, a lot of different efforts to be out where people are,” Ruffridge said. “And so I think, ultimately, that’s what you see from voters — is that they prioritize people that are there, doing the work. It says a lot.”

Bjorkman said he thinks he and Ruffridge both represent bringing new blood to Juneau, with a vision for a prosperous Alaska.

On the southern Kenai Peninsula, incumbent Republicans are leading in their races.

Both Rep. Sarah Vance, for House District 6, and Sen. Gary Stevens, in Senate District C, have leads over their challengers. Vance is leading with 54 percent of the vote to nonpartisan challenger Louie Flora’s 43 percent. Nonpartisan candidate Ginger Bryant has 3 percent of the total votes in that race.

Longtime Sen. Stevens is leading with about 55 percent of the vote to Republican Heath Smith’s 33 percent in the State Senate race. Walter Jones, also a Republican, has under 12 percent.

The Alaska Beacon reports Republicans are leading in the majority of State House races so far, while the Senate looks poised to have a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats.

In the four-way race for Alaska governor, incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy has a strong lead with over 52 percent of the vote. Democrat Les Gara follows him with 23 percent, and nonpartisan Bill Walker follows with 20 percent. Former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce has just under 5 percent of the vote.

Results don’t include absentee ballots or early voting ballots received after Nov. 3, and only account for first-choice results in the races with more than two candidates. To win outright, candidates must have more than 50 percent of the total votes.

The state said it will certify results of the elections on Nov. 29. Voter turnout is about 36 percent statewide, so far. Voter turnout sits just below 37 percent in House District 7; in House District 8, it’s 44 percent.

Find more statewide election coverage here.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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