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Primary Briefing: Alaska And Wyoming

You’d be hard-pressed to find a primary election day with better scenery than this Tuesday’s. With Alaska’s 33,904 miles of shoreline, a blue wave could very well crash ashore in the country’s northernmost state, while a billionaire could be poised to be the next governor of Wyoming after sexual-assault allegations forced an early front-runner out of the race. We won’t be live blogging this one — we need our beauty sleep — but you can follow along with the primer below.

Wyoming

Races to watch: U.S. Senate; governor
Polls close: 9 p.m. Eastern

With Gov. Matt Mead unable to run again due to term limits, the Republican primary for Wyoming governor initially looked like a race between Secretary of State Ed Murray and state Treasurer Mark Gordon. Then two women accused Murray of forcible sexual advances and he bowed out of the race. But Gordon isn’t getting a free pass into office: Two wealthy businessmen are betting that what Wyoming is really looking for is a political outsider. Foster Friess, a longtime Republican donor whose huge contributions breathed life into Rick Santorum’s 2012 campaign for president, has given his own campaign $2.4 million so far this year, while Sam Galeotos has loaned himself a relatively modest $1.5 million. (To put that in perspective, running a prime time ad in Cheyenne costs $37 per point of ratings the program gets.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Friess and Galeotos have tied themselves to Trump, while Gordon is seen as a policy wonk. Also running is the fiercely anti-regulation Harriet Hageman, a natural resources attorney who is running to the right of Gordon and has struck a tone that some residents feel is unusually nasty for the state. (Friess and Galeotos are harder to pin down ideologically.) A poll conducted last week showed Friess and Gordon neck and neck for the lead.

Flying under the radar is the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, where U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is facing the first significant challenge of his career. Businessman Dave Dodson has invested $1 million of his own money in his campaign; Barrasso has reacted to the challenge by launching ads touting records that show Dodson is a former Democratic donor. Trump endorsed Barrasso in a July 31 tweet, which should give the incumbent a significant boost but could also be a sign that he’s facing a real race.

No matter what, the GOP will be heavily favored to hold both seats in a state that’s 48 points more Republican-leaning than the country at large.1 That said, the Republican path to victory may not be a total cakewalk, as Democrats’ Senate candidate is Gary Trauner, who in 2006 came less than 1 percentage point away from winning Wyoming’s at-large congressional seat.

Alaska

Races to watch: U.S. House; governor
Polls close: Midnight Eastern in most of the state, 1 a.m. Eastern on the westernmost Aleutian Islands

We were robbed of an epic primary for Alaska governor when incumbent Bill Walker, an independent who ran with the local Democratic Party’s support in 2014, decided not to run under the Democratic banner against former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich this year. Instead, Begich and Walker will both appear on the November ballot, threatening to split the liberal vote and throw the election to whoever wins the Republican nomination — unless one can convince the other to drop out. The Republican primary was once more competitive, too, but two early entrants dropped out, leaving former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy the strong favorite. Thanks in no small part to the $700,000+ spent in support of Dunleavy by a super PAC partly funded by his brother, a June poll gave Dunleavy a 43-17 lead over former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, his main primary competition.

Republican Don Young, the longest-serving member of the U.S. House,2 isn’t in much danger of losing re-election according to traditional analysts, but our House model suggests the door is open a crack for an upset. To force a competitive race, Democrats would be best off nominating Alyse Galvin. That’s because she is actually an independent running in the Democratic primary (like Walker would have been) — if she wins on Tuesday, she will be listed on the general-election ballot as an undeclared candidate nominated by the Democratic Party, and that designation will likely help her to win over unaffiliated voters. Galvin has also raised more than $600,000, a remarkable sum for such a sparsely populated state; her fundraising skills will surely be an asset in the general election. But if primary voters decide they’d prefer a mainline Democrat, entrepreneur Dimitri Shein is campaigning on progressive platform planks like Medicare for all, although he’s only raised about a third of what Galvin has.

Footnotes

  1. According to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean measurement, which calculates how much more Republican- or Democratic-leaning an area is than the nation as a whole. It is based on how the area voted in the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections, plus an adjustment for the results of races for state legislature.

  2. He first took office on March 6, 1973.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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