Sarah Palin’s bid for the U.S. House of Representatives, Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s bid to keep her Senate seat, and Donald Trump’s influence on both of their races will be put to the test Tuesday in two simultaneous elections in Alaska, with voters casting ballots under unusual new conditions.
Alaskans will vote in a three-way special general election on one side of the ballot to fill the remainder of the House term left open by Republican Don Young, the chamber’s longest-serving member until his death in March. The 45th president has backed Palin, a former governor and vice presidential nominee, over fellow Republicans Nick Begich III and Mary Peltola. Alaska will hold its first election under a ranked-choice system approved by voters in 2020.
The final results will most likely not be known for at least two weeks. State election officials have stated that they will not begin counting second choices and redistributing votes until the deadline for absentee ballots has passed, and political observers see a race without a clear winner.
The other side of the ballot includes Murkowski’s Senate primary, in which she will face Trump-backed Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former department commissioner in Alaska’s state government. Throughout the primary season, Trump has sought to unseat Republicans across the country whom he perceives to be anti-Trump. Trump attacked Murkowski and predicted her political demise after she voted against Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018.
Unlike in 2010, when Murkowski lost the Republican primary to a tea party candidate and had to rely on a write-in campaign to win the general election, she is expected to advance to the November general election on Tuesday. This is due to Alaska’s new open primary system, in which all 19 U.S. Senate candidates appear on a single, nonpartisan ballot, with the top four moving on to the November election.
Palin surprised many Alaskans by filing at the last minute to run in her first election since her unsuccessful vice-presidential bid in 2008, and her decision to resign as governor of Alaska a year later.
In addition, 47 other people filed to run in the June special primary election. They included a gardening columnist from an Anchorage newspaper, a Southeast Alaska halibut fisherman, and a man legally known as Santa Claus — who lives in the city of North Pole.
Palin, Begich, and Peltola, as well as left-leaning independent Al Gross, advanced to the general election. Gross, however, dropped out shortly after, leaving the three other candidates as the sole candidates on Tuesday’s ballot.
The three finalists in the special election are also running in the House primary for the general election in November. In Tuesday’s election, that race is on the same side of the ballot as the Senate primary. The top four finishers in the pick-one House primary will advance to the general election in November.
In the special election, voters express their top preferences for candidates using the new ranked-choice system. Unless a candidate receives more than half of the first-choice votes, in which case that candidate wins outright, state election officials will remove the third-place finisher from the race. The second choices of their voters would then be transferred to the two remaining candidates.
While polling on the race has been limited, state strategists believe Peltola, a former state legislator who would be the state’s first Alaska Native member of the congressional delegation, will receive the majority of first-choice votes. While Alaska leans Republican, they believe Begich and Palin will split the conservative vote.
Palin, whose campaign has pushed “energy independence” and lobbed attacks at President Biden, held a rally with Trump at a packed Anchorage arena last month. Since then, she has announced no public events in Alaska and has touted endorsements from national conservative figures such as former housing and urban development secretary Ben Carson. Palin spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas earlier this month, and she blasted the FBI’s raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club last week.
The Alaska election is the most recent in a series of special United States House elections held in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to abortion. Democrats and nonpartisan analysts say the special election results show signs of increased Democratic optimism about the midterm elections. They did, however, acknowledge that Biden and his party are still facing significant political challenges.