No one has won back-to-back gubernatorial elections in Alaska since 1998 – the longest drought in the nation

In federal elections over the last half-century, Alaska has generally been reliably Republican – voting for GOP nominees in 14 consecutive presidential elections since 1968, 13 of 15 U.S. Senate elections since 1978, and 25 straight U.S. House elections since 1973.

But Alaska is nonetheless a politically quirky and at times unpredictable state – electing an independent or third party nominee to the governorship twice since 1990, electing a write-in candidate to the U.S. Senate in 2010, and having a bi-partisan political coalition control the state house for each of the last three cycles.

Alaska also recently adopted a new primary law in which all partisan and independent candidates will be listed on a single ballot with the top four finishers emerging to the general election.

And while the incumbency advantage generally remains a strong factor in electoral politics, in Alaska, its governors have had a difficult time leveraging that advantage.

In fact, Alaska has had the lowest gubernatorial reelection rate in the nation since the mid-1950s at just 36.4 percent (four of 11) – the only state in which incumbents have not been victorious at least half of the time during this period.

Current Governor Mike Dunleavy has not yet declared his intentions for the 2022 cycle – and potential bonafide candidates have taken a wait-and-see approach thus far.

To be sure, gubernatorial incumbents have historically struggled to win second terms in Alaska. The state is currently in the midst of the longest drought in the nation with no candidate winning back-to-back gubernatorial contests in nearly a quarter century with Republican Frank Murkowski placing third in the 2006 GOP primary, Republican Sean Parnell losing to GOPer-turned-independent Bill Walker in 2014, and Walker dropping out of the race a couple weeks before election day in 2018.

The last Alaskan to win two straight races for governor was Democrat Tony Knowles in 1994 and 1998.

That 24-year gap heading into the 2022 cycle is the longest in the nation since two states saw similar marks end in 1998.

New Mexico had gone 30 years between electing a governor to two consecutive terms: Republicans David Cargo in 1964/1968 and Gary Johnson in 1994/1998.

The reelection of Republican George W. Bush in Texas in 1998 also ended a 24-year gap since Democrat Dolph Briscoe won two in a row in 1972 and 1974.

Wyoming (1946-1970) and Delaware (1956-1980) also had periods of 24 years during which no candidate won two straight elections for governor bleeding into the latter part of the 20th Century.

[It should be noted that Virginia is currently the only state that does not allow governors to run for a second term. But from the 1960s until the 1980s slightly more than a dozen states saw similar bans lifted – the majority of these were southern states. States that did not allow governors to run for successive terms are excluded from the analysis].

Over the decades, only three Alaskans have ever been elected governor in back-to-back cycles: Democrat William Egan (1958, 1962), Republican Jay Hammond (1974, 1978), and the aforementioned Knowles (1994, 1998).

By contrast, Hawaii has only had two governors who have not been elected to successive terms: Republican William Quinn in 1962 (lost to Democrat John Burns) and Neil Abercrombie in 2014 (lost primary to David Ige).

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  1. John Chessant on July 1, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    Utah has only had three one-term governors, the last one being Gov. Charles R. Mabey (R-UT) who lost re-election in 1924. So Utah has the longest streak of *elected* governors serving multiple consecutive terms. However, Gov. Olene Walker, who succeeded Gov. Mike Leavitt upon his appointment as administrator of the EPA in November 2003, was denied a place on the 2004 primary ballot at the state convention, so she left office in 2005 having served less than one term.

    Thus the longest streak of governors serving multiple consecutive terms is currently held by California, where every governor since Pat Brown (first elected in 1958) has won consecutive gubernatorial elections. (Gray Davis, elected in 1998 and 2002 but recalled in 2003, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, elected in 2003 and 2006, are the only governors since then to serve less than two full terms.)

    • Daniel Fox on July 1, 2021 at 7:16 pm

      True story: In 1924, the Democratic candidate for Governor against Mabey was George Dern. So the Democrats used the slogan:

      “We want a Dern good governor, and we don’t mean Mabey!”

      • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on July 1, 2021 at 7:24 pm

        That is amazing. You don’t see clever slogans like that nowadays.

  2. Flickertail-Pembina on July 1, 2021 at 5:17 pm

    NM: William Blaine “Bill” Richardson III (2002, 2006); Susana Martinez (2010, 2014); David Francis Cargo was elected twice to 2-year term terms in 1966 and 1968.

    CA: Culbert Levy Olson (elected 1938) was the most recent true single-term governor, though the current occupant could become one should he fail to beat back the arguably partisan recall balloting (“Goodie” Knight, while elected only in 1954, served more than one full term).

  3. Flickertail-Pembina on July 3, 2021 at 11:09 am

    Re-election: Keith Harvey Miller of course failed in 1970, but Sean Parnell in 2010 was not ‘re-elected’ either, since he was not elected four years prior and ascended to the post only after Sarah Palin had had enough of the political media scrutiny and the evident lack of opportunities for more money from paid media the faraway post (based in Juneau, with secondary office in Anchorage) offered (hence, 3 of 10, or 30%). Including former occupants standing for additional terms, the success rate would be adjusted downwards (5 of 17; 29.4%). The main factor for that is “Wally” Hickel, who quit midterm (1969), and repeatedly failed to return to it (1974, 1978, 1986).

    Somewhat eclipsed by the turbulence in gubernatorial politics is its US Senate politics and its recent competitive trend. True, a member of the Senate R Caucus has won 14 of 15 contests since 1977-78. But since the spectacular fall onetime Senator Murkowski in 2006, no one has reached even the 55% threshold in five straight elections, with the 2008, 2010, and 2014 elections decided in single digits.

  4. Connor Cobb on July 13, 2021 at 7:47 am

    AK is also one of 5 states without a sitting or former Lt. Gov. being elected Gov.-side note, Sean Parnell and a few others ascended to the governorship as noted above- the other states are NJ-which has only had the Lt. Gov. post since the 2009 cycle- AR, FL and MD.
    MD might change that next year if Democratic congressman Anthony Brown is elected. I noted in a prior article how funny it would be if Brown and former RNC chairman Michael Steele were to face off in a battle of former Lt. Gov.’s- the out going Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford has already said that he’s out.
    AZ, OR, WY, NH and ME have no Lt. Gov. position, whilst TN and WV give the title of Lt. Gov. to the state senate president.

    • John Chessant on July 19, 2021 at 9:01 pm

      It would also be quite funny to see Tom Perez vs. Michael Steele — a battle of former national party chairs. [In neighboring Virginia, former RNC chairs Jim Gilmore and Ed Gillespie ran unsuccessfully against Mark Warner for Senate in 2008 and 2014, respectively, while former DNC chair Tim Kaine won the state’s other Senate seat in 2012.]

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