Alaska Dems gather across state to pick party’s presidential nominee

Democratic caucus-goers in flood Anchorage's West High School on Saturday morning. (Photo by Zachariah Hughs/Alaska Public Media)
Democratic caucus-goers in flood Anchorage’s West High School on Saturday morning. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

By 9:30 a.m. the parking-lot at Anchorage’s West High school was overflowing onto side-streets, with cheerful lines of Democratic caucus-goers formed outside of multiple entrances. Inside, dense crowds formed at district tables.

Registered Democrats in 13 of Anchorage’s House districts are gathering at the site – one of 42 across the state – to pick the state party’s Democratic nominee for president.

Preliminary results are expected around noon, with detailed results forecast to be in close to 4 p.m.

The primary in Alaska isn’t a winner-take-all contest. While there may be a clear winner on Saturday, support could also be split down the middle, according to Alaska Democratic Party Communication Director Jake Hamburg.

Of the 20 delegates that’ll go to the Democratic National Convention in July, 16 will be pledged proportionately to Sanders or Clinton, with four “super delegates,” who are can opt to support either of the presumptive nominees. Alaska’s state-convention in May will pick who those specific delegates will be.

Caucus locations are spread across the state, from Barrow to Ketchikan. Registered Dems will come together at sites ranging from schools and community halls to a breakfast cafe in Nome, and a site in Unalakleet listed as “The Home of Chuck Degnan.” From there, registered Democrats discuss, debate and realign their support until each of the state’s 40 House districts assigns delegates proportionately to candidates.

“At their heart, caucuses are meetings of neighbors,” Hamburg said. “They’re organized and run by local party volunteers. And it’s more than just stepping into a voting booth and leaving.”

The state’s Republican Presidential Preference Poll on March 2 left businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with an equal amount of delegates after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio withdrew from the race.

Alaska Democrats haven’t caucused since 2008, when they overwhelmingly selected then-Senator Barack Obama over Clinton by a wide margin.

Little polling data is available in Alaska. Clinton is touting endorsements by several prominent state Democrats, and has focused campaign resources in Anchorage. The Sanders camp has sent staff across the state targeting rural voters and young people with “Rock the Caucus” concerts.

Neither candidate has visited Alaska during the campaign.