JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska voters got their first shot at using ranked voting in a statewide race Tuesday in a special U.S. House election in which Sarah Palin seeks a return to elected office.
Also, Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski faces 18 challengers in a primary in which the top four vote-getters will advance to November’s general election.
The special election and regular primaries for U.S. Senate, U.S. House, governor and lieutenant governor and state legislative seats are on opposite sides of a two-sided ballot. It could take until Aug. 31 to know the winner of the special election.
The three candidates competing in the House special election are Republicans Palin and Nick Begich and Democrat Mary Peltola. The winner will serve the remainder of the late Rep. Don Young ‘s term. Young, a Republican, held the state’s only House seat for 49 years. He died in March.
Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee and a former Alaska governor, renewed her “drill, baby, drill” calls for increased oil production and said she would use her connections to the benefit of Alaska. She said the new, voter-approved system under which elections are being conducted this year creates confusion and should be changed.
Begich, a businessman from a family of prominent Democrats, has come out hard against Palin, seeking to cast her as someone chasing fame and a quitter; Palin resigned during her term as governor in 2009. In one Begich ad, a woman says: “I’m voting for smart — not Sarah.”
Palin “does not have a strong track record of effective advocacy for the state, and that’s not going to work for us,” Begich said in an interview.
A narrator in one of Palin’s ads refers to Begich as “negative Nick” and says Palin wants to serve in Congress “to carry Don Young’s torch.”
Peltola, a former lawmaker, most recently worked at a commission whose goal is to rebuild salmon resources on the Kuskokwim River. She has cast herself as a “regular Alaskan” and consensus builder. If successful, she would be the first Alaska Native woman elected to the House.
“Vote, vote, vote and vote for me twice, literally,” Peltola told supporters in Juneau days before the election.
All three said they planned to pursue a full, two-year House term, regardless of how the special election turns out. They, along with Republican Tara Sweeney, who was an assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Interior Department during the Trump administration, were the most prominent candidates in a 22-person field in the U.S. House primary.
Sweeney also filed days before the special election as a write-in candidate for that race. Palin’s campaign on Friday sent an email wrongly stating there were no official write-in candidates in the race.
Alaska’s elections process, approved by voters in 2020 and used for the first time this year, ends party primaries and institutes ranked voting for general elections. In the primary, all candidates in a race are listed together; each voter picks one candidate per race. The four candidates who win the most votes in each race advance to the November general election, in which ranked voting will be used.
Bob Cruise left a Peltola fundraiser in Juneau Friday with a yard sign. He said his three granddaughters are of indigenous heritage. “It’s important to me for them to see an indigenous woman go to Washington, D.C., as Alaska’s representative. That would mean the world to me, especially one with the leadership abilities and all the wonderful qualities that Mary has,” he said.
Murkowski, a moderate who has been in the Senate for nearly 20 years and has at times been at odds with her party, faces 18 challengers, including fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who is backed by former President Donald Trump.
Trump has lashed out against Murkowski, who voted to convict him in his second impeachment trial after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Trump was acquitted.
Murkowski told reporters Tuesday there will be four winners in the primary, and she would “absolutely” be among them. But “what matters is winning in November,” she said.
She said that if Tshibaka derives her sole strength from Trump’s endorsement, “what does that really say about her as a candidate with what she has to offer Alaska? Is it just that she will be a rubber stamp for Donald Trump? I don’t think that all Alaskans are really seeking that. Not the ones that I’m talking to.”
Trump participated in a rally last month with Tshibaka and Palin, whom he’s endorsed for the House. He has also done tele-rallies for Tshibaka and Palin.
Tshibaka has sought to cast Murkowski as a Washington insider who is cozy with President Joe Biden. She has said Alaskans want a change.
Kevin Durling, a co-chair of Tshibaka’s campaign, said Tshibaka’s commitment to business and family and her values are important to him. He said Trump’s endorsement of her is an added bonus.
The most visible Democrat in the race is retired educator Pat Chesbro, who jumped in late and has struggled to gain fundraising traction.
Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as teams in the primary. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is seeking reelection. He is running with Nancy Dahlstrom, who resigned as head of the state corrections department to join the ticket. Former Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, is running with Heidi Drygas, who was his labor department commissioner. Democrat Les Gara, a former lawmaker, is running with Jessica Cook, a teacher.
Other tickets include Republican state Rep. Christopher Kurka, running with Paul Hueper, and Charlie Pierce, a Republican borough mayor, running with Edie Grunwald.
Fifty-nine of the Legislature’s 60 seats are up for election, but just one primary race has more than four candidates.
Beth Kerttula, a Democratic former state legislator, said she is supporting Peltola, Walker and Murkowski. Kerttula, who was in the Legislature with Peltola and Murkowski, said for many Alaskans “what really matters is the person” versus the party.
“I mean, we all supported Ted Stevens, too,” she said, referring to the late, longtime Republican U.S. senator. Alaska elections history includes periods when there were open primaries.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism