All eyes were on the Last Frontier last night for the results of the crucial Alaska caucuses—widely regarded as make-or-break for, depending on whom you asked, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, or Newt Gingrich. After Romney managed to squeak past Rick Santorum late in the night with a three-point lead, there can no longer be a doubt that he has the nomination in the bag. No president since 1960 has ever won a general election without votes from Alaska, so Romney’s surprise win could truly be a game-changer.
Alaskans clearly understood how high the stakes were—more than 13,000 people turned out for the caucus, only 60 times less than the population of Columbus, Ohio. The count could have been higher by a margin of tens if several high-profile malfunctions hadn’t occurred; the site of the South Anchorage polling site had to be moved after snow caused the roof of the auditorium at the Abbott Loop Community Church to collapse last Friday. Redistricting also caused countless polling sites to change location this year, so several voters may have been kept from the polls by the ensuing chaos. It is not yet known whether Santorum will contest Romney’s victory in this bellwether state.
The outcome in Alaska was made even more exciting by the fact that no polling firms decided to survey the state. Any of the four candidates could have pulled an upset. In the end, Romney won a 32 percent share of the vote and 8 of the 27 delegates up for grabs, while Santorum got 29 percent of the vote— 425 fewer votes than Romney—and 7 delegates. Ron Paul, who usually performs well in caucuses and was floated as a potential victor in Alaska, got 24 percent of the vote.
Alaskans joined the other Super Tuesday voters in considering the economy and healthcare the most important issues of the 2012 election. Terrorism and national security was their third biggest issue, not surprising given the state’s proximity to Russia.
In an interview with Alaska Dispatch, Fox Business anchor Neil Cavuto sung the praises of Alaskan voters. “I read somewhere that those who move to Alaska, in particular, are pioneers by nature,” said Cavuto. “They've abandoned the familiar for the excitement of the new. We need more folks like that playing in our electoral process, and casting their votes with that smart detachment. We could do worse than have those in our most mysterious state.”
The importance of the state was evident from the resources expended this past week by the campaigns. Ron Paul campaigned in Fairbanks and Anchorage this past Sunday, and Romney sent his son Josh—the best campaigner of the Romney offspring—to Alaska to help push him over the edge.
Although Santorum and Gingrich did not visit Alaska personally, their super PACs made sure the candidates could put up a serious fight. The pro-Santorum Red White and Blue fund spent $20,225 in the state, while Winning Our Future spent $14,396. Unfortunately, these significant investments were not robust enough to overpower the might of Josh Romney’s campaigning.
Alaska is the only state divided into boroughs instead of counties or parishes, the only possible reason CNN didn’t devote its night to this state instead of the drably predictable Ohio primary. Without counties to constantly circle and analyze, the rationale for cable election coverage vanishes almost completely.
CNN did spend a few minutes in Alaska talking to Sarah Palin, who was voting in Wasilla. In what CNN contributor called Alex Castellanos perhaps the biggest news of the night, Sarah Palin said about the possibility of her running in 2016, “Anything in this life in this world is possible. Anything is possible for an American. And I don’t discount any idea or plan at this point isn’t in my control. Anything is possible.” A Palin run in four years could be a game-changer, so expect coverage of this prospect to ramp up from a once-a-month required mention on Fox and Friends to daily chatter this week.
Sarah Palin told Fox News later in the night that she voted for “the cheerful one,” making her one of the nearly 2,000 people in her state who voted for Newt Gingrich.
Despite the fact that Romney’s Alaska win proves his campaign’s still got it, we must continue to both call Romney inevitable and question his inevitability, because that is irrefutably the biggest story of the GOP primary. Aside from the idea of a Sarah Palin 2016 run.