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Sarah Palin faces Alaska voters again in a special election for Congress

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U.S. House candidate former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin greets the crowd during a rally held by former President Donald Trump on July 9 in Anchorage.
Image credit: Justin Sullivan

Alaskans go to the polls Tuesday to decide, among other things, whether to send former governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin to Congress.

The right-wing Republican is among three candidates in a special election for Alaska’s sole U.S. House seat. Palin is up against Republican Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola in the first test of Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system.

The winner will serve until the end of the year, finishing the term of GOP Rep. Don Young. He died in March after serving 49 years.

Begich is a wealthy tech entrepreneur. He was co-chair of Young’s 2020 campaign but turned on the incumbent the next year and ran to Young’s right. He comes from a family of prominent Democrats and is named for his grandfather, the congressman who held the seat before Young.

With two conservatives splitting the vote, Peltola, a salmon advocate and former state legislator from western Alaska, is likely to gain the most first-choice ballots. But the winner of the special election won’t be known until the end of August, after all the mailed ballots arrive. That’s when the Alaska Division of Elections will tabulate the rankings. The third-place finisher will be eliminated and the ballots that went to the candidate will be reallocated according to the voters’ second choices.

Palin has called it the “screwiest system” that “makes no sense to most voters.”

A slim majority of Alaska voters adopted the new method in 2020. It pairs a nonpartisan primary with ranked choice voting in the general.

To win the special general, one of the conservatives would have to get enough second-choice votes from the other to overcome Peltola’s likely lead in the first round of counting.

The two Republicans have been attacking each other for weeks while leaving Peltola alone.

Palin recently called the Democrat a “sweetheart,” even as she attacks Begich for supporting Democrats in past races.

Begich has called Palin a “quitter,” tapping into the disappointment many Alaska Republicans felt when she resigned as governor in 2009 in the wake of her unsuccessful campaign as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate in 2008.

“We picked her to do a job, and she didn’t bother to finish it. Because she wanted to go out there and get rich and famous,” a Begich ad says.

While they need second-choice votes, Begich and Palin have a more immediate concern.

“Game No. 1 has to be that you don’t come in third,” said Art Hackney, a Republican consultant working for Begich. “Because if you come in third, you are, you know, moot to the whole thing, and it becomes your second-choice votes that are the things that matter.”

To complicate this election day for voters, it is also the day of the regular primary.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican who supports abortion rights, is on the ballot for reelection with 18 challengers. Among them is attorney and evangelical pastor Kelly Tshibaka. She, like Palin, has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.

The Alaska Republican Party would like to punish Murkowski for voting to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial, but the new system eliminates the partisan primary. The top four vote-getters will advance to the November ballot. Murkowski and Tshibaka are both sure to make the cut, along with Democrat Pat Chesbro, a retired educator.

Also at stake this election season: Who will serve the next full term in the U.S. House. Begich, Palin and Peltola are all in that race, too.

Copyright 2022 Alaska Public Media. To see more, visit Alaska Public Media.

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