For several decades, the Republican candidate in presidential elections has been a shoo-in in Alaska. Not so this year. Donald Trump is neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton in this traditionally red state, and Democrats are holding their breath and hoping for an election like the one in 1964.
That is when Lyndon Johnson beat Republican candidate Barry Goldwater in a landslide, in Alaska as in the rest of the country. But since then, the Republicans have dominated Alaskan politics. Their two Senators and one Member of the House of Representatives are Republican. So is the Governor, and the majority of the state legislature. Mitt Romney won Alaska handily in 2012, and most expected a Republican candidate to repeat that in 2016. But recent polls show Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to be almost equal, and Democrats rejoice in what could be the first Alaskan win in a lifetime.
Donald Trump lost the primary election in Alaska to Ted Cruz. Only 5% of registered Republican voters in Alaska voted for Trump, as his anti-trade message was received coolly in a state dependent on international natural gas markets. And although Trump has promised to open up Alaska for more oil and gas exploration, something that is key to winning the Alaskan vote, his rhetoric was perceived as less fiery than Ted Cruz’.
A demographic challenge
Trump is also facing a demographic challenge in Alaska, where over 35% of voters are non-white and a majority of white voters have higher education. His strongest support has been found among white, less-educated whites.
Alaskan senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have both distanced themselves from their party’s presidential candidate. Murkowski, who herself is up for election and expected to win, said in an October press release that
"Offensive and inappropriate statements made by Donald Trump throughout this campaign have caused me to withhold my support or an endorsement. I have always supported the Republican presidential nominee and I had hoped to do the same in 2016. The video that surfaced yesterday further revealed his true character. He not only objectified women, he bragged about preying upon them. I cannot and will not support Donald Trump for President – he has forfeited the right to be our party's nominee. He must step aside."
Can not support Hillary
Her colleague Dan Sullivan echoed the sentiment:
"I've worked to encourage men to choose respect and change the culture of abuse against women and children, which is at epidemic levels in Alaska and many parts of the country. We need national leaders who can lead by example on this critical issue. The reprehensible revelations about Donald Trump have shown that he can't. Therefore, I am withdrawing my support for his candidacy. Because I love Alaska and our country, I cannot and will not support Hillary Clinton…
….I will continue to campaign for Republican candidates across Alaska and the country. Keeping Republicans in the Senate majority is critical to the economic and national security of Alaska and America. As for the White House, Donald Trump should step aside. I will support Governor Mike Pence for President."
Alaska’s Republican party has upheld its support for Trump. This has caused Murkowski and Sullivan to withdraw from leadership positions within the state party, as party officers are expected to back the party’s candidates.
All of this plus Alaska’s high percentage of independent voters adds up to an unpredictable mix ahead of the election. For the first time in 52 years, the Democratic presidential candidate has a chance of winning in the High North.
It could be yet another surprise, in an election year unlike any other.