The voters winnowed the five House District 8 Republican candidates down to one, picking Soldotna Mayor Ken Lancaster to carry the party banner in the Nov. 7 general election.
"I think background and hard work pays off," Lancaster said Tuesday evening, as the results were coming in and a jubilant crowd of supporters celebrated at his home.
District 8 stretches from Soldotna and Funny River east to Seward and north to Hope, including all the communities between. The turnout was about 13 percent in the Republican primary.
With all 10 precincts reporting, Lancaster had 681 votes, about 44 percent of those Republican votes cast.
He attributed his win to his experience, statewide accomplishments and the public's interest in his campaign theme of improving accountability in state spending.
Lancaster will face Democrat Pete Sprague in the Nov. 7 general election. Sprague, a retired mail carrier, is a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and a former member of the Soldotna City Council. He has said his priorities, if elected, are long-term planning, economic stability and enhancing the state's education system.
About 7 percent of District 8's registered voters chose the open primary ballot; they gave all their 696 votes to Sprague.
The Republican incumbent, Gary Davis, who served four terms in Juneau, chose not to run for re-election this year.
Davis praised the five Republican rivals as a strong slate of candidates. He said he had predicted and hoped Lancaster would win, but the closed primary and the vagaries of peninsula politics added elements of suspense.
"I am naturally pleased," he said. "I have supported Ken from before the others even entered. I was hoping he would win."
Runner-up in the Republican primary's unofficial tally with 28 percent was Larry L. Smith of Cooper Landing, a contractor and Republican Party activist making his first run for office. Efforts to contact Smith Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Grace Merkes of Sterling, a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, was third with 19 percent of the vote. Merkes lost the same race two years ago campaigning as a Democrat against Davis.
Merkes said she anticipated that she and Smith would split the conservative vote, benefiting Lancaster. She has not decided if she will endorse either candidate on the final ballot.
"Of course, I wish I would have won," she said. "What can I say? It's kind of what I expected."
She pledged to continue representing her supporters via the assembly and said she doubts she will run for the Legislature again.
"It is a hard tedious job to run a campaign. It is a real challenge and a real commitment. ... I think we put out a good effort."
The other two candidates, political novices Carolyn Reynolds and Charlie Parker, trailed in the count with support at 6 and 3 percent, respectively.
Reynolds said the experience soured her on running for office again. She described campaigning as a learning experience but basically "horrible."
But she expressed confidence in the electoral process.
"The people did get exactly what they wanted. That is a good thing," she said.
Parker was philosophical and not altogether unhappy about his loss.
"There's going to be more losers than winners," he said. "I consider myself a winner either way. Now I don't have to go to Juneau for four months of the year."
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