Republican Cathy Muñoz is set to take on incumbent Democrat Andrea Doll in the fall general election after fending off a challenge from Stephanie Madsen in Tuesday's primary election for the Mendenhall Valley state House seat.
A cheer went up at the election night gathering at the Rie Muñoz Gallery in the valley where Muñoz's supporters saw her take an early lead. She held a nearly 3-2 lead over Madsen all evening to win the race.
"It was a really exciting race, and I had a lot of wonderful people helping me," Muñoz said.
The race may have hinged on name recognition, Madsen said.
Muñoz is the daughter of former legislator Elton Engstrom and daughter-in-law of noted artist Rie Muñoz. She also served three terms in the Juneau Assembly several years ago. Madsen moved to Juneau 10 years ago.
"We knew that was going to be our biggest challenge," Madsen said.
"The bottom line is, people need to get to know you," she said. "There was just not enough time to get out and let people know about me," she said.
Muñoz said her local experience will benefit her in the campaign, and hopefully in the Legislature.
"Getting that local experience on the city assembly is very valuable," she said.
Madsen also faced a late attack from Kodiak fisherman Lu Dochterman, who accused her of favoring the wrong industry as a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and failing to honor the flag.
"Something like that comes out of the blue and you don't have time to respond to it," Madsen said.
Madsen works as executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association, an industry group representing factory trawlers.
Madsen said she'll now be supporting Muñoz in the general election, and hopes she can unseat Democrat Doll.
"That was the main goal from the day I filed," she said.
In the downtown Juneau House seat, House Democratic Leader Beth Kerttula cruised to an easy victory, winning 88-12 over challenger David Newman.
Newman conceded the race early.
"I think you have to be a little delusional if you think you are going to take down a 10-year incumbent with the last name Kerttula in the same party," Newman said.
Kerttula led House Democrats for the last two years as they fought a series of battles winning a bigger share of the state's oil wealth for Alaskans and putting the state on the road to a natural gas pipeline.
Kerttula credited the people of her district with the victory.
"The district itself is tremendous," she said. "I believe people understood how hard the Democratic caucus worked on behalf of the people of Alaska."
Newman ran a positive campaign against Kerttula, agreeing with her on most issues, but saying he'd do a better job of advocating for them. He said he'll support Kerttula from here on out.
"I'm a big fan of Beth's," he said.
Juneau Republican Party Chairman Ben Brown held a fundraiser for Newman, but Newman said that was because of personal friendship. He was not a secret Republican, he said.
"Anyone who said that is an idiot," he said.
Newman, a former assistant state ombudsman said he will be looking for work, but he will never run for office again.
"This is the first and only time I'll ever be doing anything like this," he said.
Kerttula is hoping for a strong Democratic showing in the November general election. A few more Democratic seats could place the Legislature in Democratic control for the first time since 1992.
Even less than that would be needed if some moderate Republicans were to join the Democrats in a coalition similar to that which ran the Senate for the last two years.
Kerttula said she was encouraged by Doll's strong showing in her unopposed primary, a so-called "beauty contest" race.
Muñoz saw it differently, and thinks Doll is beatable.
"When you total up Stephanie Madsen's numbers and mine, the total is greater than Andrea received," she said.
Kerttula said the best way to ensure the capital remains in Juneau is to make sure Democrats take control, or at least remain in a strong minority position.
"A strong Democratic House is good for Juneau," she said.
Muñoz predicted the House would remain in Republican control and said it would benefit Juneau to have a member of the Majority representing the city.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.