Alaska to decide US Senate, House races

ANCHORAGE — Alaska voters will decide a rematch of a contentious U.S. Senate race, a fight for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat and the future of Republicans’ stronghold in the state Legislature.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski faces a rematch with Joe Miller, who beat her in the GOP primary in 2010. Murkowski went on to win the general election with a write-in campaign. Miller is running this time as a Libertarian.

Murkowski has cast herself as a pragmatist and touted her seniority. Miller and independent Margaret Stock, meanwhile, have sought to paint her as beholden to her party and part of the problem in an ineffective Congress.

The field also includes Democrat Ray Metcalfe and lesser-known independent and write-in candidates.

Murkowski has said she is concerned about voter turnout due to the off-putting vitriolic presidential race, featuring Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Voter turnout in a presidential year has never dipped below 59 percent, dating back to 1976, when the Division of Elections began tracking it. It has been as high as 83 percent, in 1992.

Alaska, which has three electoral votes, hasn’t supported a Democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, have distanced themselves from the Republican presidential nominee.

Young, already the longest serving Republican in the U.S. House, is hoping to win a 23rd term. He faces former media executive Steve Lindbeck, who has questioned Young’s effectiveness and argued that it’s time for a change.

In state Senate races, Republican Majority Leader John Coghill of North Pole and Anchorage Sen. Cathy Giessel are facing aggressive challenges from candidates who expressed frustration with the Legislature’s failure to make major progress in addressing the state’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

Democrat Luke Hopkins, a former Fairbanks North Star Borough mayor, is challenging Coghill. Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO, is challenging Giessel. Both see the need for greater bipartisanship in Juneau.

Senate President Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican who isn’t up for re-election, thinks the GOP has a good chance of maintaining control in the Senate.

Republicans currently hold 14 of the Senate’s 20 seats, and two rural Democrats are part of the majority.

On the House side, Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he’s assuming the majority will stay in power.

“But we also know that there are problems out there that we need to address. We’ve been trying to address them and hopefully this year we’ll be able to,” he said. “A lot of it’s going to depend on what comes out of the elections and what we see as a path to be able to move forward.”

Minority Democrats have been arguing in favor of a bipartisan coalition, similar to what was in place in the Senate until 2012, in which Republicans and Democrats shared power.

Rep. Paul Seaton, who is considered a moderate Republican, said he sees the House organizing not necessarily based on party affiliation but instead “as people that are committed to getting something done on a sustainable fiscal plan.”

Lawmakers couldn’t agree on a budget deal and forced an extended session earlier this year. That was followed by two special sessions during which they approved oil and gas tax credit changes focused largely on Cook Inlet, but did not reach agreement on ways to close the deficit long-term outside the use of savings.

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