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With election day closing in, Anchorage mayoral candidates are fighting not to win, but to lock in a spot in a runoff

Mar. 30—With ballots due back Tuesday in Anchorage's municipal election, none of the major candidates for mayor anticipate winning outright. Instead, they are hoping to emerge next week as one of the top two vote-getters in order to advance to a May runoff that will determine who leads the city during the next three years.

As of Thursday, municipal election officials had received 32,967 ballots, below the level at this same point in the 2018 regular election, but above the returns in 2021, the last mayoral election. That year, however, turnout in the May runoff surged, with people casting ballots earlier and in higher numbers than the April contest.

Mayoral races in Anchorage are regularly decided by runoff, since several strong candidates tend to all pull votes from one another and keep anybody from hitting the 45% threshold of support required by city rules in order to win. This year, the campaigns expect no different. Ten people have filed to run. But most close observers of local political races expect four candidates to split the majority of votes.

"I do believe there will be a runoff," said Joelle Hall, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO and head of an independent expenditure group financed by labor unions that is spending in support of former Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance's campaign. "Once we get through, that runoff will be a short sprint."

Most campaign watchers expect incumbent Mayor Dave Bronson to earn enough votes to make it to the runoff, but few think he will win outright. As the lone conservative among the four most resourced and serious campaigns, the mayor has relatively little competition for right-leaning voters. In recent weeks, campaigns and their surrogates have referred to commissioned polls as generally indicating no one candidate is within striking distance of the 45% threshold.

Bronson campaign coordinator Blake Stieren declined a request for an interview and did not make anyone from the campaign available Friday.

On social media, Bronson's messaging has been primarily geared toward reminding supporters to vote and directing them where to send ballots. His campaign put out a call for volunteers to help with phone banking.

"Bring your cell phone, and we'll take care of food and drinks," the campaign posted to Bronson's official reelection page on Facebook.

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The campaign has also touted endorsements from prominent conservative politicians, including former mayors Dan Sullivan and George Wuerch, as well as U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan.

On the other side, many view the dynamic as a three-way race for second place among former Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, retired head of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. Bill Popp, and former Democratic state House member Chris Tuck.

"At this point in the game, I think it's gonna come down to either Suzanne or myself," said Popp.

"Unless something really amazing happens and Dave doesn't make it to the runoff, which, it could happen, but I'm hard-pressed to believe," Popp said. "He's got a pretty solid base. But I don't know that the base gets him into another term."

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His campaign has put out "thousands of door hangers" and is focused on more "grassroots efforts" to engage with voters. He and supporters will be sign-waving over the weekend and into Tuesday as the race pushes to the finish, Popp added.

"I'm feeling really good," he said. "We've been seeing a pretty big surge in interest in the campaign and feeling good about how we're being received all the different forums and the different debates and just feel like we've got momentum."

Likewise, Tuck sees LaFrance as the opponent to beat in order to reach a runoff against Bronson.

"It's really iffy for me right now. I'm pushing really hard because I sure would hate to find out that I was four votes shy. And so we're just gonna keep pushing, pushing. I don't run just to run — I run to win," Tuck said.

"It is all phone calls, phone banking, lit (literature) dropping, door knocking and get out the vote," Tuck said of his tactics in the final push.

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LaFrance said her campaign had roughly a hundred volunteers who planned to spend the weekend door-knocking around the city.

"We've got a strategic approach in terms of who we are targeting," she said. "We have a plan. And right now we're focused on talking to as many folks as we can."

LaFrance said that she is "excited about the position we're in," based on a combination of polling she has seen, her fundraising returns, and feedback from voters.

"We'll be ready for a runoff if we end up with that," she said.

But, she added, "I am certainly not taking anything for granted."

She, Popp and Tuck have not held back on spending funds brought in through contributions. Though LaFrance has raised the most of any candidate, she's also put most of it to work on things like staff, ad buys and direct mail. Now, however, she lacks the cash reserves that Bronson's campaign has kept on hand, which as of this week was more than $168,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

"The mayor, last time, saved his resources till the runoff. And I think he's doing the same thing again this time," said Hall. "I expect him to have a lot to do and a lot of energy coming alive because I think that campaign's been a little sleepy so far. But he did this before, he just worked inside of his bubble, and then made the runoff and then was going more aggressive. So I think we'll just see a repeat of that strategy."

In addition to the mayoral contest, three of the seven seats on the school board will be decided, along with nine bonds and ballot propositions, most of which are bond measures for everything from school improvements and road infrastructure to adding public restrooms and improving access to hiking trails.

Ballots must be postmarked or returned to secure drop boxes on or before April 2, which is also the last day to cast in-person ballots at several locations around the municipality.

Election officials will publish preliminary results Tuesday night, reflecting ballots that have been received, processed and tabulated through election day. Those figures, however, will not be final, with ballots continuing to arrive through the mail system for several days afterward, which could alter results in a close race.