Can Wielechowski Survive Redistricting?
Editors Note: Every week from now until Election Day the Northern Right will profile and update races for state legislative seats. These ratings can shift significantly and rapidly based on current events so stay tuned to see where candidates stand.
State Senate Seat G.
Incumbent: Bill Wielechowski (D)
Primary Challenger: None
Republican Challenger: Bob Roses
Race Rating: Toss Up
This senate district encompasses Elmendorf, northern Muldoon, and a corridor running on either side of Boniface Boulevard. Because the district is cobbled together of mostly one to two precincts from what was six different house districts and four senate seats, there is no previous district to us as a base for analysis. This is a brand new seat with entirely new dynamics.
The dynamic for this race will likely break this senate seat down into three voter groups. The first is those precincts from Bill Wielechowski’s old senate seat to which he can fully lay claim to the incumbent advantage. The second is those non-military base precincts Wielechowski doesn’t currently represent and effectively have no incumbent. The third and most distinct group of voters here is the military vote coming from the Elmendorf precinct. Military voters don’t act like and can’t be pursued in the same way as any other group. When was the last time you saw a state house candidate going door-to-door on Elmendorf?
It is also worth noting that the redistricting board significantly empowered the military vote by making this a senate seat that is up in presidential election years. The military votes in dramatically larger numbers in presidential years. If this seat, which is up every four years, were on the ballot in non-presidential years the military would largely ignore the election and thus would both have far less of a voting impact and receive less representation in the legislature.
Lets start with the basic mathematics of this new seat. In presidential election years we can expect about 13,000-14,000 votes to be cast in a senate seat. Using the most recent gubernatorial, congressional, and presidential returns as baseline we see that McCain, Parnell, and Young won this seat by an average of 2,200 votes.
OK, so we have a republican-leaning district, but let's go a little deeper because this is where the three different voting groups mentioned above come into play.
Bill Wielechowski has a track record of getting about an 800-vote advantage out of the precincts in the new seat he currently represents. The military has a rock solid track record of voting for the R on the state legislature ballot by a net margin of 1,000 votes. That means the best-case scenario for Wielechowski is that he will have to win his new areas by a 200-vote margin to win.
Wielechowski can do it, but he’ll have some strong headwinds. First of all, his 800-vote margin in his current precincts will be difficult to maintain.
This year is a presidential election, which means there will be about 3,000 more votes in this election than in Wielechowski’s previous elections. The dynamics of presidential election politics in Alaska aren’t as dramatic an advantage for the GOP in civilian populations as it is in military populations, but it is still exists. This should cost Wielechowski a net of at least 100 votes in his backyard.
A second factor to consider is Wielechowski’s opponent, Bob Roses, has also run and represented those areas before. Bob Roses only lost these precincts by 200 votes in 2008, so the there should be significant numbers of voters who have voted for both of them in the past but must choose between them this time. Even assuming they break 70/30 percent break for Wielechowski still costs Wielechowski a net of 200 votes off his strong areas.
The key question beyond the math is what effect Wielechowski’s enthusiasm for being the anti-oil, anti-Parnell poster child will have on this race. I’ll wait to speculate on this question and offer a campaign strategy in future articles.
Before the race even starts, Roses enjoys a 400-vote mathematical advantage. We offer a “toss-up” rating here only because Wielechowski is an energetic and committed campaigner. When an incumbent is willing to work hard for re-election, they can overcome a lot of obstacles.