A strong showing in Homer by Republican Party U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller surprised almost everybody — everybody except a spirited group of supporters on the lower Kenai Peninsula.
“In the past week and a half, just monitoring what’s going on across the state, we really saw a surge of support in Anchorage,” said Barnabas Firth, a Miller campaign volunteer. “Down here locally we have a strong support base. I really expected him to have a stronger showing than the polls were indicating.”
In all nine House District 31 precincts from Funny River to the head of Kachemak Bay, Miller took first, with 1,332 votes. Former attorney general Dan Sullivan finished second with 948 votes and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell finished third with 586 votes. In Anchor Point, his strongest precinct, Miller won with 53 percent of the vote, 253 votes to Sullivan’s 135.
Statewide, though, Sullivan has won the nomination and will face Democratic Party nominee and incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in the general election. Sullivan got 40 percent of the vote to Miller’s 32 percent and Treadwell’s 25 percent.
For Treadwell supporter Jon Faulkner, Miller’s strong showing came as a surprise.
“I expected for him (Treadwell) to be beating Joe Miller,” he said. “I also feel that Sullivan had taken some hits more recently and was losing momentum. I expected Mead to do much better and to be very close to Sullivan, and both of them to be a good 10 percent vote against Miller.”
Sullivan supporter Roni Overway said she also had thought Treadwell would win statewide over Miller.
“At the same time, going out to the debate at Land’s End, Miller had a vocal group. They’re enthusiastic and showed up,” she said.
Overway said she was happy that her candidate won.
“I think he has the values that my husband and I share,” she said. “We’re Republicans and we truly think he has the best chance of defeating Begich when the general election comes along.”
Faulkner pointed out Miller’s strong support among younger voters.
“(Miller) has a very loyal base,” Faulkner said. “They’re young and much more anti-government, anti-intrusion into their private lives.”
Firth, 24, said he also noted the strong support of young voters for Miller. At a campaign appearance in July in Homer, Miller spoke of how opportunities for the next generation had been diminished.
“That was something I’ve been trying to figure out,” he said of why Miller appeals to his generation. “As a young person myself, this may be part of what resonates with the younger people. We see that things are not as good as the last generations had.”
Begich supporter Liz Downing said she thinks Alaska’s junior senator faces a challenging campaign against Sullivan.
“He’s always had tough races,” she said of Begich. “He’s made it clear from the beginning this one is going to be down to the people who show up.”
Downing said Begich deserves to be re-elected.
“I think Sen. Begich has done an amazing job these past few years. I’ve been fortunate enough to see him in action, listening to him dozens of times, listening to him talking to individuals in small groups. He’s really a problem solver. That’s why I support him.”
In the U.S. congressional race, Democrat Forrest Dunbar and incumbent Republican Congressman Don Young were nominated. On the Democratic ballot, Dunbar won District 31 with 884 votes and statewide with 31,555 votes, defeating Frank Vondersaar of Homer, who had 313 votes locally and 7,654 statewide.
Vondersaar recently suffered a stroke, and given his health, had said earlier that “voting for Dunbar is just as good right now as far as I can tell.”
Young got 1,679 votes locally and Anchor Point candidate John Cox got 769. Statewide, Young got 64,445 votes statewide. Statewide, Cox won 11,726 votes, with David Dohner getting 4,399 and David Seaward 6,085.
Dunbar, 30, an Anchorage lawyer born and raised in Alaska, is a viable candidate against Young, said Frank Mullen, a Homer supporter of Dunbar.
“He offers plenty of integrity and dignity for all Alaskans, which is something we’ve been in exceedingly short supply for a lot of years in Alaska.”
Mullen thinks 2014 might be the year a Democrat wins. Young is Alaska’s longest serving member of Congress, first elected in 1973, and has regularly knocked off challengers from his party and the Democrats.
“This may be the year for Rep. Young that people finally get tired of him. It’s hard to predict. It’s a long way to November,” he said.
Downing said one thing she hopes to see is more bipartisanship in Congress. Begich is more in tune with Alaska values, she said.
Downing mentioned the work of a group called No Labels, which takes the approach of solving problems. No Labels seeks to identify goals and problems and then come up with bipartisan approaches and “create a national momentum toward developing strategies that are bipartisan and getting away from the left-right, blue-red bickering, which I think we’re all very tired of,” she said.
In other elections, Democrat Byron Mallot and Republican and incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell easily won nomination. Mallot won 944 votes locally and 34,569 statewide. Parnell won 1,938 votes locally and 65,267 statewide.
In the lieutenant governor race, Democrat Hollis French won 1,038 votes locally and 32,916 statewide, while Anchorage mayor and Republican Dan Sullivan — the other Dan Sullivan — won 1,853 votes locally and 60,451 votes statewide.
District 31 Rep. Paul Seaton ran unopposed in the Republican Party race, and got 2,443 votes. He faces no opposition in the general election and, barring a Hail Mary write-in campaign, will return to Juneau.
District 31 is now in Senate District P after redistricting. Incumbent Republican Sen. Gary Stevens also had no challenger in the primary, and had 2,367 votes in District 31 and 3,976 total. Democrat Robert “Mo” Henrichs also had no opposition and won 1,094 votes locally and 1,817 votes overall. Stevens and Henrichs face each other in the general election.
Locally, 4,915 voters participated in Tuesday’s election, a 34.44 percent turnout. Statewide, 156,000 voted, a 31.52 percent turnout.