In primary races for the state House, empty seats are drawing the crowds.
Seven seats in the 40-member House have no incumbent. In three more, the winner of Tuesday's primary will win the seat because only candidates from one party have filed for the office. In other two cases, the winner will face candidates from the fledgling Republican Moderate Party.
One of the most crowded races is in District 8 on the Kenai Peninsula, where four Republicans are trying for the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Gary Davis, a Soldotna Republican. Soldotna Mayor Ken Lancaster figures to have the edge, but he faces plenty of competition.
"It is a little crowded, but we feel pretty confident," Lancaster said. "Our biggest concern is getting people out to vote."
Lancaster faces Grace Merkes of Sterling, who lost to Davis two years ago, Larry Smith of Cooper Landing, Charlie Parker of Soldotna, and Carolyn Ann Reynolds of Soldotna.
Reynolds is running a campaign rooted in her opposition to last year's plan to spend earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund to balance the state budget.
"The dividend is too important to tinker with," she said of the plan that failed dramatically in last September's advisory vote. "It's not even right to ask for it."
Lancaster has advocated a long-range plan to solve the state's financial troubles by using some of the fund's earnings. The winner of the race faces Kenai Peninsula Borough Assemblyman Pete Sprague, a Democrat, in November.
Farther down the peninsula, three Republicans are trying for the Homer seat being vacated by former House Speaker Gail Phillips.
Phillips, a Republican who plans a bid for governor in 2002, has endorsed Drew Scalzi, a fisherman. He faces Dale Wunderlich and Doug Ruzicka in the primary. The winner takes on Democrat Amy Bollenbach.
Anchorage Republican Rep. Jerry Sanders is one of the few incumbents who faces a serious challenger. Anchorage assembly member Kevin Meyer, an oil company executive, is well-funded and backed by many high-profile Republicans. Sanders quit the House majority last year to protest the balanced budget plan and attempts to pass a constitutional amendment allowing a subsistence priority for rural residents.
Palmer Rep. Scott Ogan also quit the majority, and he has drawn three challengers in the Republican primary: Sheila Fritz, Mike Pearson and Janet Kincaid, who lost to Ogan in the primary two years ago.
In Anchorage, Rep. John Cowdery's decision to run for the Senate drew four Republicans and Republican Moderate Party leader Ray Metcalfe into the District 17 race.
Lesil McGuire, an aide to House Judiciary Chairman Pete Kott, has the clear edge in fund-raising, partly because she's had help from her father, David McGuire, a prominent and politically active surgeon.
Lesil McGuire takes on Jim Weymouth, Pat Fogarty and Trey Patton in the primary. The winner gets to face Metcalfe, a former state representative who has the benefit of name recognition gained in his run for governor two years ago.
In District 16, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Allen Kemplen's decision to retire drew in Gretchen Guess, the daughter of the late Gene Guess, a former House speaker. Guess, who has a significant advantage in campaign money, faces Regina Manteufel, who lost to Kemplen two years ago in the Democratic primary. The winner takes on community activist Randy Smith, who's unopposed in the Republican primary.
On Kodiak Island, two Republicans are trying for the seat vacated by GOP Rep. Alan Austerman, who is running for an open Senate seat. The winner between Gary Stevens and Dan Ogg will face Democrat Gabrielle LeDoux in November.
The North Pole seat vacated by Republican Gene Therriault, who is running for the Senate, drew three Republicans: Hugh "Bud" Fate, Tony Martin and Doug Welton. The winner gets to run against Democrat Carl Benson.
A proposed property tax cap on the Novemberballot could figure into the race for District 18 in Anchorage. Ralf Kalenka, the brother of initiative sponsor Uwe Kalenka, is challenging Rep. Con Bunde for the Republican nomination.
The winner faces Anchorage assembly member Pat Abney.
Abney, who has run for office as a Democrat in the past, got on the ballot as a nonpartisan this year in a move intended to make her more politically palatable in a GOP stronghold.
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