Alaska vote tests Trump’s influence, Palin’s candidacy and a new electoral system

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ANCHORING — Sarah Palin’s bid to join the U.S. House, Senator Lisa Murkowski’s efforts to retain her Senate seat, and Donald Trump’s influence on both their races will be tested in two concurrent elections in Alaska on Tuesday – voters voting under new unusual conditions.

On one side of voting, Alaskans will vote in a three-vote special general election to fill the remainder of the House term left open by Republican Don Young, who was the longest-serving member of the house until his sudden death in March. The 45th president endorsed Palin, a former governor and running mate, over fellow Republican Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola. The election will be the first in Alaska to use a ranked choice system that voters adopted in 2020.

In a traditional voting system, voters select a single candidate. With the preferential vote, they rank the candidates in order of preference. Here’s how it works. (Video: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

Final results likely won’t be determined for at least two weeks. State election officials say they won’t start counting second choices and redistributing votes until the deadline for mail-in ballots to arrive, and political observers see a race with no runaway candidates.

The other side of the ballot features Murkowski’s Senate primary, where she faces Trump-endorsed Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former Alaska State Government Department Commissioner. Throughout the primary season, Trump has sought to oust Republicans across the country who he perceives as hostile to him. After Murkowski voted against Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination in 2018, Trump attacked her harshly and predicted his political death.

Unlike 2010, when Murkowski lost the Republican primary to a Tea Party candidate and won the general election only after a write-in campaign, she is favored to qualify for the November general election on Tuesday. That’s because of Alaska’s new open primary system, in which all 19 U.S. Senate candidates run on a single, nonpartisan ballot, with the top four qualifying for the November vote.

Murkowski, Tshibaka and Pat Chesbro, a retired principal and Democratic Party-endorsed superintendent of schools, are seen as the first to advance, making for a primary with relatively little drama.

“There is no great anticipation as to whether Lisa Murkowski will move forward or not,” Murkowski said in a phone interview Sunday from outside Fairbanks, where she was between a renewable energy fair and a bath in a pool at a local spa. “So it has a different feel.”

The race to replace Young has been more heated.

Palin surprised many Alaskans by showing up, at the last minute, to run in his first election since his unsuccessful run for vice president in 2008 and since his decision to step down as governor of Alaska a year later .

Forty-seven others also ran in the June special primary elections. Among them were the Anchorage newspaper’s gardening columnist, a southeast Alaskan halibut fisherman and a man legally named Santa Claus – who lives in the town of North Pole.

Palin, Begich and Peltola Advanced in the legislative elections, alongside the left-wing independent Al Gross. But Gross dropped out soon after, leaving the other three as the only candidates in Tuesday’s ballot.

The three runners-up in the special election are also candidates in the House primary for the November general election. This race appears on the same side of the ballot as the Senate primary in Tuesday’s vote. The top four finishers from the chosen house primary will move on in November.

With the new ranked choice system used in the special election, voters indicate their top preferences for candidates. Unless a candidate gets more than half of the first-choice votes — in which case that candidate would win outright — state election officials will remove the third-choice candidate from the race. Their voters’ second choices would then be transferred to the two remaining candidates.

Although there have been few polls on the race, state strategists say they expect the most first-choice votes to go to Peltola, a former state lawmaker who would be the first Alaska Native member of the state’s congressional delegation. With Alaska leaning Republican, Begich and Palin are likely to split the conservative vote, they said.

Palin, whose campaign has pushed for “energy independence” and launched attacks on President Biden, held a rally with Trump in a crowded Anchorage arena last month. Since then, she has not announced any public events in Alaska and has touted endorsements from national conservative figures such as former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Palin spoke earlier this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, and she blasted the FBI’s search for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club last week.

Palin campaign officials did not respond to requests for comment. Begich was quick to point out his absence from the events in Alaska.

“His record is really about standing up for himself — not for the state, not for those around him, but really about building his personal brand,” said Begich, nephew of former Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich and grandson. from Nick. Begich, a Democrat who held Alaska’s seat in Congress until his plane went missing in 1972.

Palin, meanwhile, fired Begich, worrying some conservatives that the two Republicans’ negative campaigning could cost them second-choice votes, analysts say, making Peltola’s election more likely.

“You want them to look at their second choice as someone they can live with. You can’t turn the second choice into someone they would never vote for,” said Sarah Erkmann Ward, a GOP strategist based in Anchorage. If Peltola wins the special election, she added, “Republicans will have a collective moment where they have to reevaluate their strategy.”

Peltola’s campaign, meanwhile, has focused more on local issues, such as plummeting salmon returns in some Alaskan rivers, and she touts her track record as a fisheries manager.

She responded to attack ads linking her to Biden and rising gas prices by joking that people in her home rural southwest Alaska would be happy to pay $5. $ per gallon, as prices there have been considerably higher.

However, Peltola has also highlighted her support for abortion rights, and her volunteers have called out independent and moderate Republicans — especially women — in an effort to eliminate first- and second-choice votes.

Alaska’s election is the latest in a series of special U.S. House elections held following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion. Nonpartisan Democrats and Analysts said they saw signs of more Democratic optimism about midterms in the special election results. But they acknowledged that Biden and his party continue to face significant political headwinds.

While Alaska-based operatives across the political spectrum say Peltola has a realistic chance of winning Tuesday’s election, domestic party arms such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have stayed out of the running. so far.

Peltola, in a phone interview on Sunday, called the move “bizarre,” though she said she should tell voters she’s “just an ordinary citizen of Alaska” and not a “DC politician”. Her allies, meanwhile, hope Peltola will win more support in November’s general election, when she runs for a full two-year term in Congress.

“It’s understandable, in a year when Democrats have been on the defensive, that they’ve been cautious about investing and learning in more red states,” John-Henry Heckendorn said. , a nonpartisan political consultant from Anchorage who works with the Peltola campaign. “But I think it’s very clear to people on the ground that they’re missing out on a huge opportunity if they don’t invest in this race.”

Maddy Mundy, spokesperson for the DCCC, said in a statement that preferential voting could create new opportunities for the party. “We are watching this race closely and look forward to seeing the final results of Tuesday’s election,” Mundy said.

If Palin is eliminated, enough of his voters would have to rank Begich second for him to come from behind to beat Peltola, said Ivan Moore, whose company Alaska Survey Research has conducted some of the only polls on the race. But if Begich, a businessman and software entrepreneur, comes in third, Moore said, he expects Peltola to win, because too many Alaskans have soured on Palin to rank her as their second pick.

“It’ll catch up to you when you get into the bottom two,” Moore said in a phone interview Sunday.

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