TALE OF THE TAPE
On Election Night, the precinct tapes from Hoonah, Alaska said it all. Mark Begich was losing badly. The union influence over elections had slipped. And the experts were wrong.
At the Anchorage Alehouse, Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock had his laptop computer propped up on a pony wall, and he and Mike Dunleavy were looking over the results coming in from volunteers who snapped photos of precinct tapes from around the state.
Then came the precinct tapes from Hoonah. It was Dunleavy-Meyer 159, and Begich-Call 136. Walker-Mallot received 9, and Toien-Clift took 8.
“That’s it,” Babcock said to Dunleavy. “That’s all we need to know — you’ve won.”
It was just 9:15 pm and election results were not yet posted on the State’s Election website.
But a Republican candidate winning in a Democrat-heavy town like Hoonah was a bellwether. If you can win Hoonah as a Republican, you can win the state.
In the end, Mike Dunleavy took more votes in the governor’s race than all other three candidates combined. Dunleavy won 123,447 votes, Begich got 102,654.
Bill Walker, the unpopular incumbent, and Billy Toien, the Libertarian, fought for the scraps, each getting less than two percent.
WHAT HAPPENED TO MARK?
Mark Begich has more political pedigree than just about any Alaska politician since Wally Hickel. He is a highly capable and personable campaigner who loves the political battle, and thrives on retail politics.
But every time he runs for statewide office, he is doing worse.
In 2008, he won against Sen. Ted Stevens, but only because Stevens had faced an indictment by the Department of Justice, a charge later thrown out because DOJ lawyers suppressed evidence that would have exonerated him.
That race was close: 47.8 to 46.5 percent — a one point difference.
In 2014, Begich lost his Senate seat to former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan by two points. Sullivan is Alaska’s U.S. senator and will face re-election in 2020.
Now, in 2018, running for governor, Begich lost to a rural schoolteacher and former state senator by 9 points — maybe more, after all the absentee votes are counted.
In other words, from his one-point win in 2008 to his -9 or -10 loss in 2018, there’s at least an 11-point drop in his popularity.
Begich’s drop-off in rural Alaska was pronounced. Although he won most rural areas, he lost a third of his margin in the Bethel region. Dunleavy, the governor-elect, got close to beating him in rural areas where Democrats typically do well.
The craftiest, most polished politician in the state was running against a Sasquatch — a working class guy who came to Alaska as a logger, became a school teacher in deeply rural Arctic Alaska, and who was hard to “manage” when he was in the Senate.
WALKER HAD NO FLOOR
Most polls and pundits said Gov. Bill Walker would get some votes — either protest votes or simply a mark on the ballot from voters who were not aware that he had dropped from the race. His name was still on the ballot, after all.
The election of Dunleavy was a complete rejection of the policies and results of the last four years. It was a rejection of the way the Permanent Fund dividend was calculated, a rejection of the economic recessions and a rejection of the catch-and-release criminal justice situation.
Even the votes that went to Begich were a rejection of Walker’s direction, since Begich was also mainly running against the performance of the past four years and for most of his race was running to unseat Walker.
But few people suspected that there was no floor at all for Walker. In the end, he had as much political relevancy as Toien.
BELTRAMI AND THE UNIONS
Vince Beltrami, head of the AFL-CIO, was one of the biggest losers of the election. He and his affiliates had placed all their chips on Bill Walker this summer, only to have him pull out of the race in mid-October, leaving them holding the bag. Instead of finding a path to work with Dunleavy, they immediately voted 100 percent to back Mark Begich.
This isn’t a great result for the union boss and his colleague Joey Merrick, who is the business manager for Laborers Local 341. They’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars losing just about every race they backed this election cycle, with the exception of Merrick’s wife, Kelly Merrick, who is the Republican elected to represent Eagle River District 14, and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, who won with only 40 percent of the vote for Muldoon District 15.
EXPERTS GOT IT WRONG
Ivan Moore, of Alaska Survey Research said last week the race was within the margin of error. A point separated them, he said. His five-week campaign to excite Democrats and swing voters into giving Begich a chance didn’t work. Every week during Moore’s survey propaganda campaign, he showed Begich closing the gap, until it was 42-43, advantage Dunleavy on Oct. 31.
Last week, Moore did a Facebook poll, and the Facebook universe gave him an entirely different result — which turned out to be more accurate than his traditional polling:
Pollsters are only as good as their assumption is about who the electorate is. Conventional polls may not take into account the “hometown hero” affect, and in this case, that appears to have skewed the results.
Perhaps the surveys didn’t ask as many people in Mat-Su, or didn’t see the surge of voter excitement. The Mat-Su voters brought over 1,000 more voters to the polls in each district than in 2014.
And then you have these experts — the readers of Must Read Alaska on Facebook, who on Monday made the choice between how much Dunleavy would win by — over 7 or under 7, and were surprisingly intuitive:
One polling company that did not release its results was Dittman Research. This preserves the company’s record of calling every race accurately.
Dittman may not have been confident enough in its own results to release them. With so many moving parts in the governor’s race, that turned out to be the prudent decision.
GALVIN LOSES BADLY
Ivan Moore also forecasted a possible win for Democrat challenger Alyse Galvin over Congressman Don Young.
But Alaskans were not impressed with Galvin’s substance or style and she lost badly. Galvin displayed a radical side, and it would have been remarkable for the same voters who brought Dunleavy to office to also allow someone like Galvin, who is to the left of Nancy Pelosi, to represent Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives as its lone congressperson.
Young’s win was very solid for the Dean of the House, the highest since Democrat Sharon Cissna took him on in 2012, when he won by over 63 percent.
In 2014, Young won with 51 percent of the vote against Democrat Forrest Dunbar.
In 2016, he won with 50 percent of the vote against Democrat Steve Lindbeck.
This year, he won with 54 percent of the vote to earn him his 24th term in office.
OTHERS JOIN THE CLUB
There were others who might join the club, but here’s the analysis from one leftist political pundit this morning, who cast her judgment on the electorate: