By H. Harrison Coleman
Alaska exists on the periphery of America. It lies far to the north of the other states and is disconnected on many levels, from culture to geography. But there is another way that the Land of the Midnight Sun stands apart from the rest of the country (besides the fact that due to its far northern latitude, it is possible for the sun to be out at midnight): Alaska has unique and foreign politics compared to the rest of the U.S., making predicting the political future of Alaska a risky business. Because even Alaska is not immune from the slow but sure ascendance of the Democrats that has already begun to affect states like Georgia and Arizona.
Alaska’s politics are just as removed from the rest of the nation as Alaska is removed geographically. For instance, the Democrats in Alaska are far more pro-gun than the party average. In fact, the last Democratic candidate for governor was a member of the NRA. The members of the Alaska Republican Party pay more mind to climate change than your average conservative—just ask Senator Lisa Murkowski (R), who played a pivotal role in getting President Joe Biden’s Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, confirmed.
Speaking of Murkowski, her 2010 election story is unlike any other and serves to highlight the uniqueness of Alaskan politics: Murkowski was appointed to her Senate seat in 2002, won a full term in 2004 but lost the Republican nomination in 2010 to a far-right Tea Party member, Joe Miller. Instead of giving up, she mounted a gigantic write-in campaign, and on election night, won her seat again as a write-in candidate, coming in first, outcompeting Miller and the Democrat in the race, who came in third place behind two Republicans.
This does not indict a statewide love for the Republican Party, however. If you look through Murkowski’s electoral history, it becomes apparent that she had never won by a majority of voters, only ever a plurality, thanks to Alaska’s prominent third parties. Both third parties that Americans are likely to be familiar with—the Libertarians and the Green Party—have had great performances at the ballot box, as well as Alaska's homegrown Alaskan Independence Party, which advocates for Alaska to peacefully separate from the United States.
This is not to mention the astounding number of Independents who run in Alaska; in fact, in 2014, Bill Walker, a former Republican who merged his campaign for the governorship with a Democrat, ran as an Independent and won. In fact, Independents have a long streak of winning state legislative elections in Alaska. There are several Independents in the Alaskan legislature right now, not including one state representative who refuses to identify with any political branding whatsoever, instead running as “non-partisan”.
Looking at the makeup of Alaska’s state House of Representatives would lead one to assume that the Republicans have it locked up, but this is not true. In fact the Democrats, or more accurately the liberals, have control of the State House. This is because the Democrats have formed a coalition with the Independents and the non-partisan members, as well as two Republicans, to form a liberal ruling coalition, not too dissimilar from the multi-party governing coalitions found in parliamentary systems like the United Kingdom’s. In fact, the Speaker of the Alaska House is a Republican, but he is a member of the liberal coalition, meaning that the government of Alaska, though dominated by Republicans, is split.
This goes to show that even in a state as currently conservative as Alaska, Democrats still hold power, and after 2020, the Alaska Democrats have a lot to look forward to. Alaska, because of its far-northern and far-western location, is often an afterthought on Election Day and is usually called for one candidate or the other long after most people went to bed, around 1 AM Eastern time. Often, control of the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the presidency have depended on other states in the Lower 48, relegating Alaska to the side. This has caused several people to miss the fact that Alaska, like Georgia and Arizona, is hurtling leftwards. Alaska is chronically overlooked, and no one loses more from that than the Alaskan GOP.
In 2000, Republican President George Bush won Alaska by a margin of about 31%, making Alaska one of the safest Republican states in the Union. In 2004, however, Bush’s margin of victory was 25.5%—a swing of 5.5 towards the Democratic column. This trend would mean nothing if it stopped there—but it didn’t. In 2008, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) won Alaska, the state his running mate, Sarah Palin, was the governor of by 20.5%—another 5% swing towards the left. This trend kept up, and continued unwaveringly, right up to 2020, when Democrat Biden won 43% of the vote, more than any Democrat since 1964, when President Lyndon B. Johnson won Alaska in his 44-state landslide. Alaska’s distance has caused it to be overlooked—to the detriment of the Republican Party.
Things may be too late for Alaska Republicans, however. For one, the Alaska Democratic Party used to be on the verge of extinction—until early 2020, when the Alaska Young Democrats effectively took over the state party and turned it into a vehicle for progressive politics. Having a party which was previously on death’s door getting a shot of adrenaline by the activist youth is not a good sign for the opposition, and the Alaska GOP is not making a case for itself, joining other Republican states in censoring one of their own—famously bipartisan Murkowski, who has represented Alaska since 2004.
Biden made history as the first Democrat to win Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, since LBJ. This is a huge warning sign for Alaska Republicans because Anchorage has a population of 300,000 people—around 43% of the Land of the Midnight Sun’s total population. The only state with a higher percentage of its people concentrated in one city is New York, with New York City, which makes Anchorage the key to Alaskan politics. Admittedly, Biden did win Anchorage by a slim margin of about 2%.
Anchorage, which used to be a solid conservative town, has followed the examples of former conservative strongholds, such as Georgia’s Gwinnett County and California’s Orange County, both of which have turned into Democratic bastions. If Anchorage is an early-stage Gwinnett County, which now votes blue by huge margins, the Alaska GOP may not be able to recover simply because they are unable to match Anchorage's huge voteshare.
Alaska, as small and influential as it may be, is still important for the Democrats. It’s true that their three Electoral Votes have never decided an election—but they could have. A blue Alaska meant that Al Gore would have had a spin in the Oval Office. Alaska, of course, also sends three people to Congress: two Senators and one House member. Imagine what the Democrats might be able to do with two more members in the Senate.
The often forgotten state of Alaska is a ticking Democratic time bomb. The Land of the Midnight Sun shows all the signs of becoming the next Georgia, and the liberalizing city of Anchorage might as well be Atlanta and its suburbs as they were eight years ago. Just as the Georgia Democrats were revitalized and helmed by Stacey Abrams, the youth have taken control of Alaska’s Democratic Party. The difference is, people saw Georgia coming. Alaska is going to surprise them all on an election day not too far in the future.