Democrats gear up for party convention in Nome

JUNEAU — Don’t expect fireworks when the state Democratic Party convention gets underway in Nome on Thursday — there will be no real drama among the top-ticket races.

Democrats have already endorsed U.S. Sen. Mark Begich for re-election in what is expected to be a hotly contested, nationally watched race that could decide control of the Senate. And the party has backed Byron Mallott for governor.

Neither is expected to face much of a challenge during the August primary.

Mallott is the scheduled keynote speaker for Saturday; Begich isn’t expected to attend in person.

Party chairman Mike Wenstrup said one of the major goals of the convention, which runs through Sunday, is to continue building the party’s grassroots network heading to the November elections.

The party is stressing door-to-door campaigning “by Alaskans,” he said — drawing a contrast between the Democrats’ approach and that of Republicans. The Republican National Committee has pledged an unprecedented level of investment in the state this election cycle, including field offices and precinct-level ground work. RNC co-chair Sharon Day even spoke at the GOP’s recent state convention, issuing a call for unity and engagement in a bid to win those top-tier seats.

When asked if the Democrats have requested help from the Democratic National Committee, Wenstrup said his party has been working hard on Begich’s re-election and building itself up for the last several years. “We don’t really need the DNC to come in and, you know, bail us out, as the RNC seems to be doing for the Republican party,” he said.

“We’ve been raising a lot of money to help our candidates, and we’re looking forward to just winning this November,” he added.

A message seeking comment was left with the DNC.

Much of the attention headed to the primary has been on the Republican side, which has three high-profile contenders vying to take on Begich.

On the Democratic side, the highest-profile contested race heading to August is that for lieutenant governor, featuring state Senate Minority Leader Hollis French of Anchorage and Palmer math teacher Bob Williams.

Forrest Dunbar has been the more active Democratic candidate for the U.S. House seat held since 1973 by Republican Rep. Don Young, who is seeking re-election. Perennial candidate Frank Vondersaar is also seeking the Democratic nod.

The convention also features a “strategic communications workshop” with the Washington, D.C.-based The Truman Project. Party spokesman Zack Fields said that will provide a training opportunity for volunteers and focus on things like veterans issues.

In addition to the major races, Democrats also plan to focus attention on trying to win more seats in the Legislature. Fifty-four of the Legislature’s 60 seats are up for grabs this year. Both the House and Senate have been under GOP control the past two years, with Republicans putting an end to a yearslong bipartisan majority coalition in the Senate after the 2012 elections. Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, who is seeking re-election, has held his job since Sarah Palin resigned in 2009.

Wenstrup said he thinks Democrats have a shot at winning back control in Juneau, as part of a coalition or otherwise.

Republicans enjoyed a huge edge over minority Democrats in the House during the 28th Legislature, with four rural Democrats joining the GOP for a supermajority in the 40-member House.

Fractures began appearing within the Senate’s GOP-led majority, and one of the two Democratic members in the majority, Dennis Egan of Juneau, said there was a lot of dissatisfaction with how things were run this year.

Online:

Convention agenda: http://bit.ly/1iUtmdz

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