ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Voters in Alaska on Tuesday will select a Republican to move on to what's expected to be a closely watched governor's race this fall and choose the latest contender to try to unseat the longest-serving member of the U.S. House.
Former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy and former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell are the highest-profile candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor. The winner advances to the November general election.
Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, is skipping Tuesday's primaries, while former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Libertarian William "Billy" Toien also is running.
In Alaska's other big race, independent Alyse Galvin and Democrat Dimitri Shein are among the candidates vying for a shot to take on Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young, who is expected to win his primary. The 85-year-old Young has served in the House since 1973. The closest anyone has come to upsetting Young in recent years was 2008, when he eked out a 304-vote win over then-Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in the GOP primary.
The Democratic Party changed its rules to allow independents to run in its primaries if they want the party's backing, a move OK'd by the state Supreme Court earlier this year.
Party primaries determine who runs as a ticket in November. By bypassing the primaries and instead gathering signatures to appear on the general election ballot, candidates have a say in their running mates.
Walker flirted with running in the Democratic primary but decided not to when it appeared that Begich would run. Walker said he also wanted to ensure that he and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, a Democrat, run together. Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared in 2014 in forming a so-called unity ticket with Mallott, which was backed by Democrats.
Walker and Mallott submitted signatures Monday to qualify for the general election ballot. Walker told reporters they had each gathered more than the roughly 3,200 signatures required.
The next governor will face big issues, including crime and the economy, and decisions on the annual check that Alaskans receive from the state's oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Both Dunleavy and Treadwell have positioned themselves as conservative voices critical of a 2016 criminal justice overhaul and the state's approach to budgeting. Both support the formula in state law for calculating the oil-wealth check, which has been ignored, first by the governor and then by legislators, for the past three years amid a budget deficit.
Dunleavy, a former educator, left the Senate in January, after five years, to focus on a campaign in which he's emphasized more disciplined state spending and argued against tinkering with the dividend. Treadwell, who served as lieutenant governor under Parnell from 2010-2014 and most recently worked for a private equity firm, has cast himself as a more experienced and well-rounded candidate.
Treadwell said more needs to be done to understand what's happening with our fish and oceans and wants to revive the "Choose Respect" campaign aimed at reducing domestic violence.
Of the candidates in the Democratic race for U.S. House, Galvin, an education advocate, and Shein, a Russian immigrant who became involved in politics after President Donald Trump's election, have most actively campaigned.
Health care, an emphasis on renewable energy and climate change are issues each has raised in the race. Both Galvin and Shein say new energy and ideas are needed in Washington.
Shein has pushed strongly for Medicare for all, a concept popularized by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Galvin said she supports comprehensive health care for all Alaskans but says there are steps that can be taken to improve the existing system in the meantime.
Shein said Galvin's ties to the oil and gas industry bother him. Galvin's husband is an executive with a petroleum company.
Galvin notes that oil is an important part of the state's economy but says she also wants to diversify the economy and is excited about the potential for renewable energy.
"I'm my own person," she said.
Ginger Scoggin, a doctor in Anchorage, supports Galvin. She said the times she has spoken with Young, "I always left feeling like my words were never heard." With Galvin, "when she says something she means it," Scoggin said.
Democrat Colin Underwood is Shein's neighbor but said the reasons he's supporting Shein run deeper than that. "All the other candidates right now like to talk," he said. "Dimitri listens, and I think that's what really sets him apart."
Also running in the Democratic U.S. House primary are independent Christopher Cumings and Democrat Carol Hafner, who has never lived in or visited Alaska. Democrats questioned Hafner's political affiliation and the authenticity of her bid.
Young faces a primary challenge from Thomas "John" Nelson and Jed Whittaker, who have limited resources and little name recognition.
Tuesday's primaries also include a contested GOP race for lieutenant governor and a flurry of state legislative races.