Alaska's Closest Election: District 36's House vs. Gubernatorial Races

Compilation of the four candidates
discussed here: The colors alternate nicely.
Both District 36's state house race [Chere Klein (R) vs. Dan Ortiz (I)] and the race for Alaska's governor [Sean Parnell (R) vs. Bill Walker (I)] featured one independent candidate and one Republican incumbent or pseudo-incumbent. (While she's never served in office before, Chere Klein effectively assumed the mantle of retired Representative Peggy Wilson, at least among fellow Republicans.) Among other similarities, both races are very close right now and will be decided by absentee and early votes. Along with many Alaskans, I'm very anxious to find out the results.

When considering the races for governor and state house in District 36, I expected most people would consistently vote the party line—or the non-partisan line, as it were: Most everyone voting for the independent Walker/Mallott ticket would also vote for independent Dan Ortiz; those voting for the Republican Parnell/Sullivan ticket would also vote for Republican Chere Klein.

As it turns out, there were many hundreds of voters in District 36 who bucked my expectation, and almost every precinct bucked the expectations differently.

While it was either both Republicans or both independents who won in any given precinct—remaining consistent that way—there was only one precinct in which a gubernatorial candidate and state house candidate led by nearly the same margin. Everywhere else, the margins differed significantly, indicating there were many "line-defying voters" (voters who defied the partisan or non-partisan line).

Let me provide a homemade illustration:

the base image comes from the state;
colored borders and key were added by me

These are the ten precincts of District 36. The single consistent precinct was Wrangell, marked in maroon, where Klein beat Ortiz by 198 votes, and Parnell beat Walker by 200 votes. (Of course, all the statistics I will cite are based on the votes counted so far, which doesn't include early and absentee ballots.)

Chere Klein won two precincts by much greater margins than Parnell won them—North Tongass 1 and North Tongass 2 (bordered with orange). This makes a lot of sense, since Chere lives on North Tongass; it's always been her home turf. Additionally, I think there may have been a fair few conservatives "out North" (as people in Ketchikan say) who must have voted for Walker, believing his message of fiscal conservatism was stronger than Parnell's.

Dan Ortiz won three precincts by greater margins than Walker won them—Ketchikan 1 (a 27-vote difference), Ketchikan 2 (a massive 144 votes), and Metlakatla (24 votes). Why? For the Ketchikan precincts, I'd attribute it mostly to personal impact. Dan has taught, coached, and been a principal for many teens and children, positively connecting with thousands of people who might vote Republican in any other year. Ketchikan 2 is the precinct that contains Ketchikan High School and most of the schools in Ketchikan, so I'd wager it also contains the most teachers, helping to explain his big win there. (It's also Ortiz's old home turf, since his family lived there for years.) As for Metlakatla—I just don't know. Perhaps someone there has a plausible answer.

a close-up of the three Ketchikan precincts
The high school is located inside the "n" of the black "Ketchikan."
I used to live in No. 3, but now live on South Tongass.
Now at this point, one might wonder about votes for third party candidates. In the state house race, Klein and Ortiz were the only two candidates, but in there were two other tickets in the gubernatorial race: Care Clift and Andrew Lee for the Libertarian Party, plus J.R. Meyers and Maria Rensel for the Alaska Constitution Party. Given this difference, one might think it natural for Klein or Ortiz to always get more votes in than Parnell or Walker. This wasn't the case though: In four out of ten precincts a candidate for governor won by more than a candidate for the house.

Parnell won Ketchikan 3 and South Tongass by more than Chere Klein did. On South Tongass, I'd guess it was because it's Ortiz's home turf. South Tongass is still more conservative than in-town Ketchikan, so Dan didn't win, but he had the personal connections to do better than the Walker/Mallott ticket (a difference of 42 votes). In Ketchikan 3, Ortiz connections might have made a difference lessening the vote for Klein, but I'd also point to my hometown's big new industrial business located there—Vigor Alaska's Ketchikan Shipyard. Parnell has made a show for several years now of supporting the shipyard, and he visited it again just a few weeks before the election.

Lastly, the Bill Walker and Byron Mallott Unity Ticket won by more than Dan Ortiz in two precincts—Saxman and Hydaburg. These are two of District 36's three Native-majority precincts, so I think Byron Mallott's presence on the ticket might account for most of the difference. Mallott has been a well-known Native leader in Southeast for decades, and should his lead with Walker hold out, he'll be the first Alaska Native ever elected to statewide office. (Can you believe that? With 31 different people serving as governor, lieutenant governor, senator, or representative for Alaska since statehood, they've all been white white white.)

In any case, I hope you found my map and my analysis interesting. Please leave a comment if you have a question, disagreement, further information, or any other thoughts to share. I'd love to hear from you! Now I'll continue biding my time until the final votes are counted and these two elections are decided.

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