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Low voter turnout but clear message: several incumbents lost their jobs

By Zacharia Hughes, Alaska Public Media

Turnout for yesterday’s primary election was low – about 15% statewide – but voters sent a clear message as a lot of incumbents lost their jobs.

The state's Republican makeup saw a rearrangment: three incumbents lost their seats, while two more failed to move from the house into the senate.

Alaska Republican Party Communications Director Suzanne Downing says, "What we have, I believe, is a slightly more conservative body coming into the Legislature this next session. So we've turned a little more conservative, I'm pretty happy about that."

Downing says she's especially happy about George Rauscher's victory over incumbent Jim Culver in the republican race for House district 9 in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Rauscher beat Culver by less than a hundred votes.

Sounding tired early Wednesday morning, Rauscher said he plans on making his case on the economy and Permanent Fund as he's going door to door in the months before the November elections.

“That's the next step: listening harder and taking a lot of notes, and it's gonna be important in January."

In the Mat-Su's Senate D race, for the seat vacated by Charlie Huggins, David Wilson unexpectedly beat Lynn Gattis, a GOP favorite many expected to win. Wilson received 52 percent of the vote to Gattis's 47. 

Former Anchorage Assembly member Chris Birch has defeated incumbent Bob Lynn by a large margin in the Republican primary for house district 26.

And in the Yukon-Kuskokwim region's House District 39, democratic challenger Zach Fansler has upset incumbent Bob Herron. With a few precincts still left to be tallied as of early Wendsday morning, District 39 appears to have the highest turnout of registered primary voters of any race in the state, at 21 percent.

Looking at some of the open races. Natasha Von Imhof has won the three-way highly contested Republican race for Senate Seat L in South Anchorage. The former School Board member thinks her year-long campaign strategy paid off.

"I think that the voters like to have a very well-balanced approach, I think I have common sense, and I think I'm willing to listen to people, willing to listen to different viewpoints, and try to craft a compromise that encompases as many viewpoints as possible,” said Imhof.

Von Imhof beat representative Craig Johnson, who had hoped to move up to the senate seat being vacated by Lesil McGuire.

Further south in Anchorage, Jennifer Johnston won the republican spot for house district 29 over Ross Beiling.

Tom Begich beat Ed Wesley in the Democratic primary for the senate district covering much of downtown Anchorage, where turnout among registered voters was less than 11 percent. Begich says he and Wesley will have to come together to get more people out to the polls in November.

“It's really gonna be up to Ed and myself to get out there and get our core groups out there to vote, because the turnout was very, very low today," said Begich.

Some incumbents in the state are safe, however, at least this time around. Eagle River Republican representatives Dan Salder and Lora Reinbold have both solidly secured their spots on the Republican ticket come November.

Though Reinbold's lead was just 10 percentage points above challenger Crystal Kennedy, the incumbent says she feels optimistic about the campaign she ran.

"Ya know, it was a short season, as you know, but very intense, very good for our team,” said Reinbold.  “We did very well, we kept a positive campaign energetic. We stuck to our message, and we did well in the community."

Republican incumbent Liz Vaazquez beat primary challenger David Neese for her District 22 spot in West Anchorage.

In the south Kenai Peninsula, Paul Seaton has won the District 31 seat. He took 48 percent of the vote, with his two challengers splitting the rest almost evenly. Seaton believes part of why he won is because of his challengers' negative campaign tactics.

“It was the most negative campaign I've ever seen on the lower Peninsula,” said Seaton, “and I think a lot of people were disturbed by some of the very unfounded charges that were made."

And far to the north, in district 40, Democrat Ben Nageak has a slight lead over challenger Dean Westlake as of early Wednesday morning, but with some precincts yet to be counted.

In the national races, sitting senator Lisa Murkowski secured the republican spot on the ballot, and Ray Metcalf has more than 50 percent of the votes among democrats for his bid at the senate.

In the congressional race, Don Young got more than 71 percent of the vote among Republicans, and for the Democrats Steve Lindbeck will be the party's nominee on the November ticket.

None of the results are official until certified by the Division of Elections. 

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