Primary Recap 8/16

Alaska

Senate

In a surprisingly strong showing, incumbent GOP senator Lisa Murkowski ended up with a lead of over four points on Trump-endorsed challenger Kelly Tshibaka, which is only projected to grow once all ballots are tabulated. More tellingly, Murkowski and the Democratic candidates combined for 52 percent of the vote, which bodes very well for her chances in November.

Most of Murkowski’s vote came primarily from Democratic and independent voters, with FiveThirtyEight analyst Geoffrey Skelley pointing out that there was an extremely high correlation between her best areas in the primary and Peltola’s in the special election, while Tshibaka’s correlation was strongest with Palin’s and Begich’s vote shares. This is likely the roadmap for Murkowski in November as well, where she aims to pull Democrats and Independents in substantial numbers while getting just enough Republicans to support her. If the primary is any indication, she is the strong favorite to do so. The November election was always SAFE REPUBLICAN, but if we had to provide a rating for Murkowski vs Tshibaka, it would be LIKELY MURKOWSKI.

Governor

Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy, who is taking roughly 42% of the primary vote as of this writing, appears to be a favorite ahead of his fall reelection bid. His two main opponents are former Governor Bill Walker, an independent who dropped his 2018 reelection bid late in the cycle, and Democrat Les Gara, a former state representative. The fourth place slot has not yet been called, but Republican Charlie Pierce seems to be its most likely recipient. Despite modest approval ratings and a recall attempt that did not materialize, these numbers suggest that Dunleavy should have few issues in the November ranked-choice election. SAFE REPUBLICAN

House Special

Another post-Dobbs special election is *somewhat* in the books, but major extrapolations should not be made from it. On Tuesday, voters across Alaska’s At-Large district went to the polls to select a successor to the late Congressman Don Young, the state’s advocate in Washington for nearly fifty years.

The most recent returns, while incomplete, suggest that former Republican Governor Sarah Palin and ex-Democratic state representative Mary Peltola will be the finalists when the end results are tabulated on August 31st pursuant to the Last Frontier’s new ranked-choice voting system.

Going into the initial round of voting, Split Ticket rated the race LIKELY REPUBLICAN out of an abundance of caution. Most of our hesitation stemmed from uncertainty regarding Palin’s position in the race. Despite being the most nationally-prominent candidate in the election as a former Vice Presidential nominee, Palin’s low favorability ratings led the majority of pundits to consider fellow Republican Nick Begich III a stronger GOP contender.

Although the final first preference vote shares are currently in flux due to outstanding absentee and provisional ballots, enough of the election day vote has been recorded to support two baseline conclusions. First, Peltola will finish with a plurality of initial votes as expected. Second, Begich will be unable to pass Palin for the second place slot.

In terms of geographic returns, it is hard to glean anything concrete from a fractured RCV election. Current results show Peltola unsurprisingly rallying Democrats behind her in Anchorage, Juneau, and much of the Alaskan backcountry. Palin performed well outside of Fairbanks and within Wasilla. Begich finished second in 1st preference vote in much of the territory where combined Republican support was particularly-fervent.

Courtesy of @cinyc9

When it comes to the Peltola vs. Palin matchup that will be decided in instantaneous RCV rounds two weeks from now, Split Ticket would give the edge to the Republican based on the data available to us at the moment. According to calculations released by @cinyc9 yesterday, Peltola is expected to end up with roughly 39% of the vote – a 7.6 point edge over Palin. Alaska Survey Research numbers from earlier this week suggested that Peltola would need a 10 point advantage over her nearest opponent to ensure a Democratic victory when all is said and done.

Alaska expert Cinyc9’s assumption presently indicates that Palin would need to win about 26% of Begich voters with 2nd preferences to come out on top. His figures exclude write-in votes and account for exhausted ballots without additional ranked preferences. What does this all mean? While Peltola has probably hit the benchmark for a competitive loss, she is unlikely to generate the numbers needed for a victory against Palin post-RCV.

House General (Primary)

In the top-four primary to determine the November general election line-up in Alaska’s At-Large district, the field will have a lot in common with the that of the recent special election. While results are incomplete as of this writing, Split Ticket can offer preliminary thoughts on what they mean for the fall.

The current candidate ranking is (D) Peltola, (R) Palin, (R) Begich, and (R) Sweeney, with the first three candidates mirroring their special election placements. Unlike the special, where 3rd place finisher (I) Al Gross suspended his campaign after the primary, the November general will ostensibly be contested by four candidates.

Because Palin is favored to narrowly beat Peltola in the special election once all of the RCV-mandated ballot reallocations are completed, it stands to reason that she would also be the frontrunner in November despite her personal unpopularity. If the upcoming four-way contest were to break similarly to the special, Begich would be eliminated, pitting Peltola against an incumbent Palin.

Pursuant to the standards laid out in the Primary Watchlist, under which an incumbent Palin would put Alaska on the edge of the board, Split Ticket will be moving the November general election in Alaska’s At-Large district to LIKELY REPUBLICAN.

Wyoming

In Wyoming’s At-Large district, outspoken Republican incumbent Liz Cheney lost renomination to Trump-endorsed attorney Harriet Hageman as expected. Her defeat was the sixth and final test for pro-impeachment GOP Congresspeople. Of the ten lawmakers in question, four retired, another four lost party nods, and two were renominated with mere pluralities in jungle primaries. All told, the political careers of just two incumbent House members who defied Trump will live to see another day.

No pundit should have been surprised by Hageman’s lopsided 66-29% victory given Cheney’s proclivity to take unpopular intraparty stands without fear of clear electoral consequences. The polling average, which pegged Cheney’s surveyed support at only 29%, further reinforced the incumbent’s extreme underdog status. Interestingly, the Congresswoman’s losing coalition directly aligned with the timbre of her campaign.

Cheney carried just two counties: Teton (Jackson) and Albany (Laramie). Both of these also happened to support Joe Biden two years ago. Teton is home to part of Yellowstone National Park and attracts a significant yearly tourist base. It gave Biden 67% of cast votes in 2020 but yielded Cheney a whopping 75%. Cheney attracted a greater amount of raw support in the county’s primary than the entire Republican presidential ticket did in the 2020 general election.

Albany, located on the other side of the state, was significantly closer than its solidly-blue counterpart. Biden’s 2020 victory marked the first time that a Democrat had carried the county since Barack Obama’s 2008 ascendance. The former Vice President’s 3 point margin here ended up being nearly-identical to the one that Cheney posted on Tuesday.

The lopsided Republican advantage in primary composition explains why Cheney’s margins aligned well with Biden’s. Many Democrats in this GOP stronghold simply crossed over to back the incumbent against Trump’s endorsee, believing it to be the only way to make their electoral voices meaningfully heard.

Obviously, Hageman’s nomination does nothing to affect the Republicans’ general election chances in Wyoming. The state has not elected a Democrat to the House since Teno Roncalio in 1976 and last had competitive elections for its At-Large House seat in 2008 and 2006. There is no other sensible rating for this seat besides SAFE REPUBLICAN.

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying political science and international studies at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, aviation, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or harrisonwlavelle1@gmail.com

I’m a software engineer and a computer scientist (UC Berkeley class of 2019 BA, class of 2020 MS) who has an interest in machine learning, politics, and electoral data. I’m a partner at Split Ticket, handle our Senate races, and make many kinds of electoral models.

2 responses to “Primary Recap 8/16”

  1. You misstated something, Palin needs way more than 26% of Begich’s voters to rank her 2nd in order to pass Peltola. More like ~70%. Did you mean Peltola needs 26%?

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