This week, the day after a full moon, lunar eclipse, and even a showing of aurora borealis, Alaskans went to the polls to rank their choices for the US House of Representatives. By Wednesday morning, Congresswoman Mary Peltola, the incumbent Democrat, was leading Alaska’s US House race by a wide margin in a red state that hasn’t elected a Democratic presidential nominee since 1964.
Peltola had already garnered 47% of first-choice votes. Her opponents — former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, both Republicans — placed at 27% and 24%, respectively. Mail-in ballots are still being counted in the 49th State, and if Mary Peltola reaches 50% of the vote, she automatically wins reelection. If that doesn’t happen, she will have to wait until November 23rd, when tabulation of ranked-choice ballots are finalized. As of Friday morning, Peltola is at 47.3% (and Palin has dropped a little lower, to 26.6%.)
Steve Jennette teaches English Language Arts in Russian Mission, Alaska, a Native Yup’ik village of 323 souls on the banks of the Yukon River. “Bethel, Ms. Peltola’s hometown,” he tells me, “is our ‘urban hub,’ and some of my students have family there who know Mary.” Steve’s students organized their government class around the 2022 election and conducted a mock election in which students gave speeches supporting either Mary or her opponent. “Needless to say,” Steve says, “no one wanted to campaign for the opposition.”
In the days leading up to Election Day, various groups around Alaska ran ads online and on the radio encouraging Alaskans to vote. Without explicitly reminding them who to vote for, the NEA sent home mailers reminding citizens to vote for the candidate that will advocate for students. On the radio, a woman representing the Alaska Federation of Native Alaskans reminded listeners to vote for candidates that will defend Alaskan Native rights. Social media filled up with “I VOTED” stickers, many of which were created by artists commissioned by the Peltola campaign.
As I wrote earlier, Peltola branded herself as a true Alaskan undefined by a political party. And few people here were surprised that the first Alaskan Native in Congress out-ranked her opponents by a wide margin, placing even better in the preliminary round than her first round in the special election. Peltola ran a positive, pro-labor campaign, running on fish, family, freedom of choice, and Second Amendment rights. Even staff members of former Representative Don Young — a Republican and the longest-serving member of Congress — rallied behind the congresswoman and fundraised for her.
Peltola received endorsements from electrical workers with IBEW, postal workers with APWU National, laborers in AKAFLCIO, educators in AFT Union, service workers with SEIU, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, and Santa Claus, who originally ran against her for Don Young’s vacated seat. As of Wednesday, Peltola was ranking higher than Murkowski herself, a Republican Senator who has held the position since 2002. Meanwhile, Palin’s campaign seemed confused on its issues and settled on the oil-centric slogan “Drill, baby, drill!”
“Mary Peltola is the best-performing Alaska Democrat in a decade or more,” Robby Hockema of Anchorage tells me. “She did it by proving you can run for statewide office by uniting Alaskans by our values instead of our party affiliation. Filling the shoes of Don Young seemed nearly impossible just nine months ago. Now, Alaska will be better off if we have Mary for even half the time we had Don.”
Chelsea Foster, also in Anchorage, adds, “As Peltola continues to gain votes for our congressional seat, it appears that Alaskan voters chose nuance and action over political party and lip service. Mary Peltola is the beginning of much-needed healing in our great state of Alaska; she represents all of Alaska and does not make decisions based on a political party. She leads from the middle, and her actions in Congress thus far affirm that to be the case.”
Libby Bakalar, a Juneau resident, humor blogger, and city attorney of Bethel, an area that Peltola represented for ten years, agrees that Mary was always the standout candidate. “She represents the best of Alaska’s past, present, and future,” she says. “She was the only person in the race with any experience in elective legislative office, and it shows. Her kindness and warmth are contagious, but she’s also powerfully effective — much more than people realize just yet, I think.”
One Twitter user wrote: “We struck political gold with Peltola. She’s the Alaskan GOAT.” Another called her “THE QUEEN IN THE NORTH.”
On the conservative MustReadAlaska website, commenters mused that after this election, Alaska seems to lean more Democratic than Florida, and some predict that Alaska will vote to the left of Florida in 2024. One user wrote: “Alaska’s voting population is no longer blood-red. Hate to be a negative Nancy, but I really think Alaska is going the way of Washington and California. The conservative ship has sailed.” Others blamed the “selfishness” and “blind ambition” of Palin and Begich, and “the stupidness of the Republican party” in recent years for this phenomenon.
“Palin was the spoiler,” wrote another user in the MustReadAlaska comments. “She sucked away from Begich, handing the race to a leftist who will basically have no clout in the new Congress anyway. Silly Palin-bots! You [Palin voters] blew your chance to elect a true conservative representative who would have had clout, and gave your votes to a woman who has no loyalty to you.”
On Friday morning, the “Last Frontier” still did not have an official representative to the US House, but most agree that Mary Peltola is likely to win after ranked-choice votes are tabulated. Palin, realizing her defeat must be imminent, went nuclear on the Republican party itself and blamed “the dark, dysfunctional GOP machine” for her loss before telling supporters they should stop making donations to the party. “They opposed me every step of the way in my congressional bid, which is par for the course,” she said.
On Wednesday, Steve’s class of Yup’ik students went over the initial election results. “Then we had free time and cake,” he reports, “to celebrate the first Yup’ik Native to serve in the United States Congress!”