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Alaska Suddenly Political Hot Spot For Gop Hopefuls

Sun., Jan. 28, 1996

Alaska Republicans are staking out their turf on the political landscape this weekend, heading to caucus to cast votes in a presidential preference straw poll.

Alaska has never played a significant role in presidential politics, with a skimpy three of 538 electoral votes and only 19 of the 1,990 delegates who will go to the Republican convention in August.

But the Alaska straw poll, coming two weeks before Iowa’s caucuses, has lured candidates to the cold north in recent weeks with the hope that a strong showing here might give them momentum in the Midwest.

Publisher Steve Forbes, commentator Pat Buchanan, radio talk show host Alan Keyes and Texas Sen. Phil Gramm have all paid at least one visit to the state.

Sen. Bob Dole sent his wife, Elizabeth, to campaign in Anchorage.

It’s the first time since Ronald Reagan campaigned in Alaska in 1979 that presidential candidates have visited the state.

“I think anyone who does well up here, it’s definitely going to have an impact,” said Portia Babcock, manager of Forbes’ campaign in Alaska.

Although the straw poll is non-binding, a strong showing would at least earn candidates a bit of valuable publicity.

“There’s always a possibility that someone would do well there, particularly Forbes, that it would probably get a lot of press and it might encourage his supporters here,” said Hugh Winebrenner, a professor at Drake University in Des Moines who has written about the Iowa caucuses.

Voting began Saturday and continues through Monday night, when the first results are expected.

Republican leaders expect as many as 10,000 party members may take part in the straw poll.

But Tom McKay, Alaska Republican Party vice chairman and manager of the project, said the state’s vast size and distances between communities made it difficult to organize the vote.

“Some of these people are way out there,” said McKay.

There is no mail-in, absentee or proxy voting for those who can’t get to a location where a caucus is being held.

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