Why Alaska Republicans chose Cruz (and Trump, too)

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Alaska Republicans chose Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as their presidential candidate Tuesday — bucking the trend on a night when Donald Trump took seven states. Cruz received over 36 percent of the vote, with Trump taking about 34 percent.

More surprising than the results was the record-breaking turnout.

At 21,930 voters, the turnout for the Alaska GOP’s Presidential Preference Poll exceeded the 2012 record — 14,100 votes — by 57  percent.

The First Christian Church on LaTouche Street in Anchorage was packed with voters for the 2016 Alaska GOP Presidential Preference Poll. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN
The First Christian Church on LaTouche Street in Anchorage was packed with voters for the 2016 Alaska GOP Presidential Preference Poll. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN

Polling stations in Anchorage, Palmer, and Juneau ran out of ballots, according to Alaska GOP Communications Director Suzanne Downing, and more had to be printed.

Alaska Republican Party Chairman Peter Goldberg said enthusiasm among party members in the state is partially due to acute dissatisfaction with the Obama Administration and its policies toward natural resources and other local issues.

Voters cast paper ballots, which then had to be counted by hand. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN
Voters cast paper ballots, which then had to be counted by hand. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN

“We’re tired of the federal overreach,” Goldberg said as results came in Tuesday night, during an event held at an Anchorage hotel. “We’re tired of the disdain that Barack Obama has had for the military.”

Goldberg also thinks Cruz’s visit to Alaska to help Sen. Dan Sullivan’s 2014 campaign may have helped him do well. Asked whether Sarah Palin’s January endorsement may have given Trump’s popularity a boost, Goldberg said it likely did the opposite.

“If anything it might have brought it down in Alaska,” he said

The numbers showed a dead heat between Cruz and Trump — their totals were separated by 627 votes as of Wednesday. Trump had an edge in smaller rural towns like Barrow, Nome, and communities across Southeast, as well as some parts of south and midtown Anchorage. Cruz had the lead in conservative Railbelt strongholds like the Kenai Peninsula, Mat-Su Valley, and Fairbanks.

Republican consultant Cale Green says both candidates are tapping into sentiments among conservative voters last tested by former U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller.

The line to vote snaked out the door at First Christian Church. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN
The line to vote snaked out the door at First Christian Church. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN

“I think there’s that large underpinning of society that says ‘we’re fed up with some of the political systems and things that we’re being fed,’ I think Jeb Bush dropping out of the race was proof of that,” said Green, who voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

In that regard, Green was in the minority. Kasich received just four percent of Tuesday’s vote. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson got around 11 percent — although he did win District 38, representing Bethel, receiving 17 of the 41 votes cast. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took 15 percent of the vote statewide.

Alaska’s 28 delegates will be divided proportionately among all candidates that received more than 13 percent of Tuesday’s vote. That means Cruz will get 12 delegates, Trump 11, and Rubio will receive 5.

Polling stations around the state saw long lines. By 4 p.m. Tuesday, the line snaked out the door of the First Christian Church on LaTouche Street in Anchorage, and there was a traffic jam in the parking lot.

Lauren Larsen said she voted for Cruz because she wants a true conservative.

“Up until this morning, I thought I was going to be voting for Donald Trump,” Larsen said. “But he has a history of being a liberal, and not being pro-life.”

Statewide turnout in the 2016 vote exceeded the previous record by 57 percent. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN
Statewide turnout in the 2016 vote exceeded the previous record by 57 percent. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN

Cruz supporter Rod Wimberly also said his top priority was a candidate with consistent conservative values, which he defined as “bill of rights, second amendment, secure the borders, good defense, good military.”

“He’ll keep the values that we cherish here in Alaska,” Wimberly said. “This is a conservative state, and I think a majority of people here in Alaska do support Cruz.”

In the end, of course, that turned out to be true – at least among Republican voters.

But at the LaTouche Street polling place on Tuesday, the passion — both for and against — was with a different candidate.

“It’s time to make America great again!” said John Krier, III, 31, when asked who he was supporting. “Donald Trump!”

Krier showed up to vote with his father – John Kier, II – who also planned to vote for Trump.

“He’s the only one that’s self-funding,” said Krier, Sr. “He’s going to get us a border, which is important. If you want a country, you’ve got to have a border — just the way it is. ”

The poll was volunteer-run, unlike state primaries run by the Division of Elections. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN
The poll was volunteer-run, unlike state primaries run by the Division of Elections. Photo: Rachel Waldholz/APRN

Many Trump supporters in Anchorage agreed, saying their top issues were immigration and the economy. And many added that they like the idea that the New York billionaire can’t be bought.

But more than that, they said Trump is bringing up issues other politicians won’t touch.

“What Trump’s done is declare war on political correctness,” said Carl Loerbs, 63 and retired from the military. “All the bad stuff they say about him, it just rolls off his back. His poll numbers jump up every time he’s criticized. So that’s what we need — someone who will break the back of political correctness once and for all.”

Katy Neher had a different perspective.

“I came out to not vote for Donald Trump, let me put it that way,” she said. Asked why, she replied, “Do I have to tell you? Seriously?”

When a reporter mentioned that she appeared to be in the minority, Neher said, “I believe I am, which is really sad. Which means maybe in November I will no longer be a Republican, after my whole life.”

Not that she thinks the other party is doing any better.

“I won’t be voting Democrat, either,” she said. “I might be writing in Mickey Mouse, because, you know what, that’s a pretty good choice right now.”

Neher wasn’t thrilled with any of the Republican candidates – standing in line, minutes from voting, she still hadn’t made up her mind.

Alaska Public Media’s Kaysie Ellingson and John Norris contributed to this report.