Gary Knopp will be the Republican candidate for the Alaska House of Representatives’ District 30 seat.
Preliminary election results show him coming out on top of other area Republicans candidates Tuesday night. Absentee ballots will be tallied within the next few days.
Knopp said he was ecstatic to see Tuesday’s results. He said he had been campaigning up until the last minute, knocking on doors until Monday evening. He said he appreciated the tone of the race among the four Republican candidates.
“It really was a gentleman’s race — no negativity in it, and it’s neat that we can keep it that way in this small community,” Knopp said. “The race was fun, but we couldn’t read it. We went through the entire campaign not knowing where we were at.”
Knopp took 763 votes, according to the preliminary results. Kenai City Manager Rick Koch came in a not-too-distant second with 513 votes. Behind him were Soldotna resident and Soldotna City Council member Keith Baxter with 279 votes and Kalifornsky Beach Road area resident Kelly Wolf with 236 votes.
Knopp said he had hoped it would be a significant lead so it wouldn’t appear the candidates had split the vote.
Going on to the general election in November, he said he “wouldn’t take anything for granted.”
District 30 Democratic candidate Shauna Thornton ran without opposition in the primary, earning 306 votes. Knopp will run against her and two other candidates, unaffiliated candidate Daniel Lynch and Constitution Party candidate J.R. Myers. As of Tuesday night, Lynch and Myers’ nominating petitions for the general election were still pending.
“Shauna Thornton’s been around the community for a long time, and the other … candidates I don’t really know, but we’ll look forward to a good race,” Knopp said.
Thornton said she considered getting through the primary as the first phase, and from here on out plans to be a little more visible. The Kenai resident chose to take a backseat in the first part of the race so the public could focus on choosing her future opposition.
Once the poll numbers are finalized and she knows whom she will be running against in the general election, Thornton said she will better know what strategy to implement in the second phase of campaigning.
“It makes a lot of difference in your strategy because you are not looking at four, you are looking at one,” she said.
Thornton said she was discouraged by the low turnout Tuesday, only receiving a few hundred votes in her favor. Further, only a fraction of eligible voters turned out to tick off one of the four names on the District 30 Republican ballot, she said.
“I hope more people are voting in the regular election,” she said.
Baxter, too, said he found the turnout for Disctrict 30 to be low this year, with just under 1,800 votes cast in the Republican District 30 election. He said that although the numbers did not turn out in his favor, he is happy with how his campaign ran and does not regret his run for the seat.
Baxter said he was out waving signs from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, and was surprised by how many people came out to help him.
“It’s humbling to see,” he said.
While he does still plan to be involved in serving the community, Baxter said he is looking forward to spending more time with his family for now.
“I’m certainly not going to evaporate,” he said.
Koch, trailing Knopp by 14 percent, said he didn’t believe the remaining absentee votes will put him ahead.
“I’m pleased with it,” Koch said of his campaign. “It’s the first time I’ve ever run for elected office. I’m not displeased. I’m obviously disappointed and I wish the outcome was different. We’ll see what happens with the absentees, but I don’t expect there to be any changes given the spread.”
Koch said running future races for office is “something I have an interest in, but it will depend on what the situation is in the future.”
Koch submitted his resignation as Kenai’s City Manager in June, become effective on the Dec. 31, 2016. He said his career plans after that are uncertain.
“I don’t know that I’m done working,” Koch said. “I may do some consulting. Depending on what opportunities are out there I may do something else. At this juncture, I’m just going to wait and see.”
Incumbent Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives and sole candidate for the House District 29 seat Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) said he suspected that a lack of significant ballot measures contributed to the low turn out, but he is not sure how that will affect the general election.
Chenault expected to take the seat as well, and said he will spend the next few months preparing for the next session by talking to his constituents and try to “formulate a plan to move the state forward.”
He is also interested in seeing whom he might have the chance to work with in the Legislature next year.
“I think there is a lot of people going to be glad one way or the other that the primary is finally over and I wish my friends luck and I hope that they win,” he said.
In District 31, incumbent Rep. Paul Seaton won his primary over challengers Mary Beth Wythe and John Cox in a landslide, with 1,218 votes. Cox came in second with 713 and Wythe in third with 609.
Seaton said he thought a negative campaign waged by political action committees against him turned off a lot of voters. Wythe is Right! Seaton Must Be Beaten, an independent expenditure effort backed by The Accountability Project, spent more than $20,000 advocating for Wythe and against Seaton.
“A lot of people have been disgusted with the negative campaign that took place on her behalf,” Seaton said. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a campaign with so much wrong information on the lower peninsula.”
Wythe, the current mayor of Homer, said she will finish out her term and then reevaluate any political activity. She said she was disappointed that she lost the race to Seaton, but not as disappointed as if she had lost to Cox.
Wythe congratulated Seaton and expressed thanks to her supporters. “I want to thank them for their time, energy and funding. Sorry we couldn’t make a change.”