Incumbent Republicans ahead in state, national races as counting continues

Nov 4, 2020

Soldotna Republican Ron Gillham is leading in the race for the House District 29 seat. James Baisden is currently behind by 1,400 votes.
Credit Sabine Poux/KDLL

Incumbent Republicans are leading in local House and Senate races. That’s without the absentee ballots that the Alaska Division of Elections will start counting next week. There may be over 8,000 ballots in House Districts 29 and 30 alone.

For House District 29, which includes Sterling, Hope, Nikiski and the eastern peninsula, incumbent Ben Carpenter leads challenger Paul Dale by a margin of nearly three to one, a difference of 2,610 votes.

Carpenter is a Republican from Nikiski who was first elected in 2018. He said today he’s cautiously optimistic about the results. 

“We’ve got what’s very clearly a strong conservative push in the election this year, a red tide, hauling on Trump’s coattails, affecting all of the ballots, all of the races," he said. "I think that that is an advantage in my case. I think also the borough elections showed the absentee ballots breaking toward the more liberal candidates, so I think that is also at play.”

Carpenter is a member of the Alaska House Finance Committee. He was in the news this summer for comparing state House COVID health precautions to measures taken by Nazis during the Holocaust, a statement for which he has since apologized.

Dale, an Independent from Nikiski, said he has more questions than answers at this point.

“The early results don’t look very good. But the next thing to say is I don’t understand exactly what they’re comprised of, what precincts, which votes have been counted and which ones haven’t," he said. "And the numbers seem kind of light, you might say, for the number of precincts involved in total.”

In-person voter turnout on Election Day was somewhat low this year — about half what it was in 2016. District 30 saw a 28 percent voter turnout on Election Day, and District 29 saw a 35 percent turnout rate. 

But that’s partly because those results do not include absentee ballots. As of Wednesday morning, the Division of Elections had received over 3,380 absentee votes in District 29, and is awaiting potentially 800 more.

For House District 30, which includes Soldotna, Kenai and Kalifornsky, Ron Gillham leads challenger James Baisden by a margin of two to one, or 1,400 votes. Gillham, a Republican from Soldotna, has been an outspoken advocate of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. He could not be reached for comment before air time.

Baisden is running as a petition candidate and is registered Independent. He is currently Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce’s chief of staff.

“Of course right now, I’m down, and I don’t know if the absentee ballots [are] going to change my election a lot," he said. "So I’m positive on the race and the run. I liked everything that we did and I wish everybody well.”

The Division of Elections has received 3,560 absentee ballots in District 30, and might see over 700 more.

Could those absentee ballots be enough to flip the election? Jeffrey Meyers, an assistant professor of history and political science at Kenai Peninsula College, said it would require a lot of votes going Baisden’s way, but he wouldn’t rule out any possibilities in the District 30 race.

“There are places in this country like Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin where that is happening. So I would say if you go by the federal, if you kind of put them on top of each other, that race is probably still a race," Meyers said.

Given the difference between the two candidates in House District 29, he thinks it would be harder for Dale to win that election.

Absentee ballots are likely to trend more liberal than Election Day results.

In District 31, which stretches from Funny River Road to Homer, Sarah Vance is leading Kelly Cooper 70 percent to 30 percent, a difference of over 2,000 votes. The state still has to count over 4,440 ballots in that district.

On the Senate side, long-time Incumbent Gary Stevens looks poised to keep his District P seat. He’s leading Greg Madden by over 2,400 votes by a margin of almost two to one. 

Madden is running as an Independent. At 2 p.m. on Thursday, he said he’s waiting to come to any conclusions about where the results might end up.

“I know that it started off going in Gary’s way — I haven’t even looked at the numbers today because I just figured it’s going to take a while for everything to pan out," he said. "So once it gets settled in, then we’ll see what we got and go from there. ”

Stevens is a Republican from Kodiak. He narrowly survived a challenge from John Cox in the Republican primary, during which Cox campaigned hard for a full PFD.

Stevens was first elected in 2003. At 79, he would be the oldest state senator and second in seniority.

Republican incumbents are also leading in Alaska polls across all national races, with 86.2 percent of precincts reporting statewide as of Wednesday morning. President Donald Trump, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young are all maintaining leads of around 30 percentage points against their respective challengers.

Among Kenai Peninsula voters, those leads are even larger. In House Districts 29 and 30, about 80 percent of voters cast ballots for the president.

Precincts like Salamatof and Sterling saw some of the largest turnout for Trump. Hope, which saw 74 voters on Election Day, was the only Kenai Peninsula precinct in which Republican incumbents lost down the ballot.

Alaska residents are so far largely rejecting Ballot Measure 1, which proposes a tax on North Slope oil production, nearly two to one. The “nos” are winning bigger here on the peninsula, with over three quarters of voters.

The situation is similar on Ballot Measure 2, regarding campaign finance transparency and ranked-choice voting, where Alaskans are so far voting “no” 57 percent to 43 percent. On the peninsula, 70 percent of District 29 voters are voting “no” and 80 percent of District 30 voters are doing the same.

Tiffany Montemayor of the Division of Elections said Monday that local law enforcement would be on the lookout for instances of voter intimidation on Election Day. Representatives from Alaska State Troopers and the Kenai and Soldotna police departments said they did not receive any such reports Tuesday.