Here are the races to watch in the primary election

Voters stand inside voting booths with their legs showing.
Voting booths in Alaska. (Alaska Public Media file photo)

Today is primary day in Alaska.

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to drive down election day turnout. And a record number of Alaskans have requested absentee ballots. Since absentee ballot counting won’t start until a week after the primary election day, results of close races may not be known until the end of August.

The Division of Elections will post results here, likely beginning at 9 p.m. 

Much of the focus in the closing days of the campaign has been on Republican races that could help decide which party controls the Legislature when it convenes in January. Here’s what to watch as the results come in.

The State House:

The key races include two Anchorage Republicans who are caucusing with the mostly Democratic majority, instead of the all-Republican minority. They are Rep. Chuck Kopp — challenged by retired petroleum engineer Tom McKay — and Rep. Jennifer Johnston, challenged by retired oil industry worker James Kaufman.

Another key House race involves another Anchorage Republican who doesn’t caucus with the minority: Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, who’s facing military contractor David Nelson. LeDoux is also preparing for a trial on felony charges related to alleged misconduct in previous elections. LeDoux’s next court hearing is Thursday. 

The Anchorage Daily News reported that the Republican State Leadership Committee is targeting a series of races across the state. The committee has a national goal of putting legislatures under Republican control. That includes supporting McKay, Kaufman and Nelson, and opposing Kopp.

The minority House Republicans include 15 of the House’s 40 members. To get to the 21 seats needed to form a majority, they will have to flip at least six seats, either by replacing Republicans who caucused with the majority in the primary; winning seats in the general election that are held by the majority; or pressuring Republicans in the majority to change caucuses.

Another seat they’re hoping to add was held by the late Rep. Gary Knopp, who died in a recent plane crash. Both of the other Republicans in that race, Ron Gillham and Kelly Wolf, have said they plan to caucus with Republicans. Knopp’s name is still on the ballot.

The Republican State Leadership Committee also is weighing in on Republican races where conservative candidates supported by minority caucus Republicans are opposing more conservative candidates. The most prominent of these races is that of Wasilla Rep. David Eastman, who was barred from caucus meetings last session, after taking a series of public disagreements with other minority-caucus Republicans. He’s facing Jesse Sumner, a Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly member who runs a home-building business.

But the Republican State Leadership Committee is also supporting former Rep. Lynn Gattis and opposing Christopher Kurka for a Wasilla seat and supporting Rep. George Rauscher and opposing L.D. Howard for a district that stretches from Palmer to Valdez.

The State Senate:

The most prominent Senate race is between Senate President Cathy Giessel and challenger Roger Holland. The current, mostly Republican Senate majority includes six members who have supported larger permanent fund dividends and eight — including Giessel — who have voted against larger PFDs, saying drawing down state savings to pay dividends threatens the fund’s future.

Congress: 

There also are contested primaries for Congress. 

The candidates in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate are Al Gross, an independent and an orthopedic surgeon; Edgar Blatchford, a University of Alaska Anchorage professor; and Chris Cumings, an independent who works for a Ketchikan social service provider. 

Rep. Don Young is running for re-election to the House, where he has served since 1973. He’s opposed in the Republican primary by Gerald Heikes, who has owned a Palmer drywall company, and John Nelson, a Wasilla financial adviser. 

The candidates in the Democratic primary for U.S. House are independent Alyse Galvin, who challenged Young in 2018, and Democrats Ray Sean Tugatuk of Manokotak and Bill Hibler, a retired professor who lives in Fairbanks.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan isn’t facing a challenger in the Republican primary.