Alaska voters get 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.
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 that race 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 election system creates confusion and should be changed.
In a recent interview with Steve Bannon, Palin described it as the “newfangled, weirdo voting system we have where it's mail in-only ballots” and ranked voting. The special election is a traditional election with in-person voting, and voters were able to request absentee ballots.
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.
Palin, meanwhile, has questioned Begich's Republican credentials.
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 in urging them to turn out and to tell their friends to vote.
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, pairs open primaries, in which all candidates in a race are on the ballot together, with ranked vote general elections. The four candidates with the most votes in each primary race advance to the November general election.
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.
The most visible Democrat in the race is retired educated Pat Chesbro, who jumped in late and has struggled to gain fundraising traction. The other candidates in the field have had lower profiles.
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 to the right of Dunleavy, 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.