ANCHORAGE — Five things we learned from Tuesday’s Alaska primary:
1. Age matters. Whoever wins the U.S. House race in November won’t be considered a young lion. Democrat Sharon Cissna of Anchorage is 70; incumbent U.S. Rep. Don Young of Fort Yukon is 79, and Libertarian Jim McDermott is 55. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is also 55, leaving U.S. Sen. Mark Begich the baby of Alaska’s congressional delegation at age 50.
2. Otherwise engaged. Alaskans appeared to have better things to do Tuesday than vote. Turnout for the primary was among the lowest in a decade at 21 percent. That will go up a bit after absentee ballots are added to the total, but will still be near or below the 25 percent turnout in 2002. Was it the lack of a top-ticket draw (there’s no U.S. Senate or gubernatorial races this year), or was it the weather? Anchorage had a rare sunny day, and it was rainier and drearier than usual in Juneau. Only residents in the state’s second largest city couldn’t blame the weather for staying home since it was a typical late summer’s day — cool with intermittent drizzle — in Fairbanks.
3. “I’m more conservative than you are.” Two incumbent, conservative Republican state senators lost their primary races in part because they weren’t deemed conservative enough. Linda Menard of Wasilla and Tom Wagoner of Kenai paid a price for joining the ruling bipartisan Senate coalition comprised of Democrats and Republicans. But is conservatism just a hyper-local issue? ....
4. “Go ahead, be more conservative.” Former state Labor Commissioner Click Bishop won a three-person Republican primary for a state Senate seat covering a huge swath of Alaska, stretching from Fairbanks to Valdez, after emerging as the moderate in the field. Conservative radio talk show host Casey Reynolds of KFQD said Wednesday that Bishop’s victory wasn’t a win for the Republican party.
5. The counting of ballots doesn’t end election night. Officials had counted 98 percent of the ballots by Wednesday morning, but much work remains. Ten outstanding districts were to be counted on Wednesday. An unknown number of questioned ballots will be counted on Thursday. On Sept. 4, election officials will release results for absentee ballots. As of Wednesday, there were 6,400 absentee ballots sent through the mail, 2,495 absentee ballots filled out at election offices, and 79 ballots returned by fax. Those numbers are expected to increase since mailed absentee ballots only have to have a postmark of Tuesday or earlier to count. Absentee ballots filled out in person at election offices statewide also may increase as those are returned to the Division of Elections.