As festival season kicks off, so does campaign season

Volunteers for Lt. Gov. candidate Dan Sullivan march in the Colony Days parade on June 7, 2014. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

Volunteers for Lt. Gov. candidate Dan Sullivan march in the Colony Days parade on June 7, 2014. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

Now that the filing deadline has passed, campaign season in Alaska has started in earnest. That means a lot of TV ads, a lot of yard signs, and a lot of glad-handing. For the next few months, politicians are going to be swarming fairs and festivals in an effort to win voters. The Colony Days parade held in Palmer this weekend was the first stop on the circuit.

The Colony Days parade lasted two whole hours this year.

In between the floats from sports teams, churches, and the local utility, there was a lot of this:

PARADE MARSHALL: All right. Dan Sullivan for Lt. Governor. Here’s Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, hello, and his wife Lynnette.

It was a literal parade of political candidates, where it felt like just about every other participant was asking for your vote. Sullivan had a volunteer wearing a green wig and propped up on stilts for his float. Members of Palmer Rep. Shelley Hughes’ entourage formed a kickline. Her opponent, Democrat Peter LaFrance, had a guy dressed as a yeti.

Out of 86 floats, 20 were manned by political candidates or organizations. Because it’s good advertising, political floats are each charged $100, while all other entries go free. All the major candidates for governor participated, and so did most of the U.S. Senate candidates. But events like these are especially important for first-timers running for office, like Cathy Tilton.

“It’s important to show up at the parades to get your name out there and to meet with the constituents and talk to them and make sure they know you’re in the race,” says Tilton.

Tilton is a Republican running for an open House seat in the Chugiak area. She’s been to Colony Days before, and she says the difference between an election year and an off year is pretty obvious.

“During a non-election year, the parade is not as full of floats and people,” says Tilton. “I’ve heard there’s 85 this year, and I think there’s been years where there’s been maybe 30? So, it’s a little more robust this year we can say.”

This isn’t the only event Tilton will go to before the August 19th primary. There are Fourth of July events, and the state fair, and plenty more. That’s a lot of marching to do, and a lot of fried food to consume.

“Well, it’s all going to depend on how many doors I walk to how many funnel cakes I’m allowed to have,” Tilto jokes.

Tilton’s not the only one to see a difference between parades in odd years and even years.

“From when we were younger till now, there’s a lot more political [campaigning] now,” says spectator Stacie Queripel. “It’s become very political.”

Queripel grew up in Palmer, and she’s been attending Colony Days for years. She has some misgivings about all the campaigning. She says the parade now feels more like political event than a community celebration.

“The kids don’t really get into it as much anymore,” says Queripel. “You don’t see the 4H groups in it as much anymore, and it’s kind of sad.”

About a block away from Queripel, Jim Daggett of Wasilla is hanging out by the orchestra. He’s got a “Sean Parnell for Governor” sign that he picked up during the parade, and he doesn’t have a problem with all the candidate appearances.

“They gotta shake hands and kiss babies, right?” Daggett laughs.

Daggett says it’s nice to see everyone out in person. It gives him a sense of whether the candidates are taking the campaign seriously and if they have popular support – something you can’t really tell from a campaign ad.

Rose LeCuche, also of Wasilla, is standing next to him, and she agrees. Appearances like these aren’t driving her decision on election day, but it gives her a sense of who’s running and what a candidate is like.

“It’s a time for them to actually look people right in the eye, and to shake their hands,” says LeCuche. “You can’t completely judge a person’s character by what you see for a few seconds, but you sure can get an impression.”

And between the signs they wave and all the bags of candy they hand out, the candidates marching are hoping it’s a good one.

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