How a Grizzly-Slaying Alaskan Bodes Ill for Trump
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
A surprisingly competitive Alaska could be key to Democrats winning the Senate … and maybe even the presidency.
By Nick Fouriezos
An Al Gross campaign ad sounds as if Old Spice and Dos Equis made a crossover episode. Rather than tout his political history — the Juneau doctor and first-time Senate candidate has none — his commercials cite the fact that he was born “in the wake of an avalanche,” bought his first fishing boat with a bank loan at 14 years old, prospected for gold and killed a grizzly bear. Not with his bare hands, mind you, although at this point it wouldn’t surprise us if he had.
Of course, most mainlanders haven’t heard much about the Independent candidate’s upstart campaign, given that staunchly red Alaska is rarely competitive in presidential elections. Gross may be changing that, though, making the Alaska Senate race relevant when most thought incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan was completely safe. One August poll had Gross even with Sullivan, while another, in September (paid for by a pro-Gross super PAC) had him down just one point — well within the margin of error.
“No doubt Alaska is becoming more and more purple,” says Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, an Alaska state representative from Sitka, although he adds that he believes the state is “not quite there” yet.
Still, the latest sign of life in the polls has changed the Senate race from “Lean Republican” to “toss-up” in our OZY/0ptimus forecast model, which crunches polls, candidate traits, economic indicators and more to give you the best predictions in the business. Our model puts Alaska right in the mix of Republican seats that Democrats could overturn, with about the same chances of a flip — around 40 percent — as states that have received much more attention, such as South Carolina, Montana and Georgia. And with states like Alaska suddenly in the mix for Democrats, their chances of winning control of the Senate have grown, about 80 percent compared to 75 percent in August.
For these states to have drifted out of safety into even remotely competitive territory … encapsulates why Trump’s electoral outlook remains relatively bleak.
Scott Tranter, founder and CEO, 0ptimus
“The battle being waged for the Senate is not being waged in typical toss-up states like Colorado and Maine,” says Scott Tranter, founder and CEO of 0ptimus, a data firm with Republican roots. “Now, it’s early, and Republicans can still spend some money to bring it back, but the polling curve has been trending the wrong way.”
The issue when Senate seats in Republican strongholds like Alaska or South Carolina become competitive is that they draw resources from other must-win states. It also has ramifications for Donald Trump in the presidential election, given that the same September poll had Trump also ahead by just a single percentage point over Joe Biden in Alaska. As a result, Alaska saw by far the biggest shift of any state in this week’s presidential model — a nearly 15 percentage point move in Biden’s direction. While Tranter doesn’t believe Alaska will actually abandon the GOP — with a 72 percent chance of Trump victory, it’s still rated “Lean Republican” — that doesn’t mean it’s not troubling for Trump.
“In simulations where Trump wins, he nearly always carries Alaska, Montana, Missouri and South Carolina,” Tranter says. “For these states to have drifted out of safety into even remotely competitive territory, coupled with Biden not ceding much ground in traditionally Democratic states, encapsulates why Trump’s electoral outlook remains relatively bleak.”
Indeed, typically safe red states are joining (or even replacing) this year’s expected purple battlegrounds like North Carolina (where our model now gives Biden a 53 percent chance of victory), Florida (59 percent), Arizona (59 percent), Michigan (74 percent), Pennsylvania (72 percent) and Wisconsin (76 percent). The fact that Trump is playing defense in so many places is a major reason why the OZY/0ptimus forecast gives Biden an 82 percent chance of Electoral College victory in November.
There is one way Alaska could decide the presidency without even considering its Trump tally. This week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Democrats to start seriously considering the fact that the House of Representatives may be called to decide the presidency, in the case of an Electoral College tie or a dispute over seating electors. If that happens, each state delegation would get one vote — and right now, Republicans control 26 delegations to 22 held by Democrats, while Michigan and Pennsylvania are essentially tied.
In such a situation, Alaska becomes an extra-important swing vote, given that the state has only one at-large congressional district and Republican Don Young won by less than 7 percent of the vote in 2018, the closest race in decades for an incumbent first elected in 1972. Independent Alyse Galvin, who challenged Young two years ago, was nominated with Democrats’ support again this summer. That means the small-business owner will have a chance to build on her name recognition and capitalize on the state’s slowly changing demographics. Our model now gives her a 49 percent chance of pulling off the upset. And with Pelosi vowing to pour more cash and attention into races that could flip state delegations, Galvin could received a further boost.
“The more urban and professional transformation of Anchorage, and the increasing statewide influence of Alaska’s [Black, Indigenous and people of color] electorate, are likely major drivers,” says Kreiss-Tomkins, the Democratic state representative who helped pioneer the party’s alliance with Independent candidates to win control of the Statehouse in 2016. “Even if Alaska doesn’t vote for Biden, Gross or Galvin this cycle, it’s just a matter of time before Democrats start to break through on a reliable basis.”