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Palin Advances To General Election For House Seat

Talking Points Memo 8/17/2022 Kate Riga and John Light
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Sarah Palin is on track to compete in November’s general election to represent Alaska in Congress, a seat until recently held by the late Rep. Don Young (R). She also got the votes she needs Tuesday to remain in the running to finish out Young’s current term — but the full results of that special election wont be known for a couple more weeks.

This is all a little confusing: There are two elections in play — both held Tuesday — along with a host of changes, implemented this year, to how Alaska conducts its elections, including a shift to ranked-choice. Here’s what you need to know.

Palin — along with Nicholas Begich, Republican scion of a major Alaskan Democratic family, and former state Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat who would be the first Alaska Native in the state’s congressional delegation — is competing to finish out the Young’s term in a special election. Independent Al Gross, who ran for Senate in 2020, also qualified for the general election but dropped out.

Voters have ranked their choices, but the winner won’t be clear until at least the end of August as mail-in ballots trickle in and officials tally the votes.

On Wednesday morning, with an estimated 69 percent of ballots tallied, Peltola had 37 percent of the vote in this race. Palin had 32 percent, and Begich had 28 percent.

Because no candidate surpassed 50 percent, the third-place candidate will be eliminated once all ballots are tallied. That person’s votes will be redistributed to whichever candidate his or her voters ranked second.

Palin, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump but held very few public campaign events, has criticized the new voting method at length, calling it the “screwiest system.”

The three are also among those competing for the seat’s next full term. The primary for that race appears on the same ballot as the general election for the remainder of Young’s term. In the primary, though, the top four candidates of any party qualify for the general election. In November, voters will again rank their choices for the seat.

Tara Sweeney, a former Trump administration official, is also competing in the primary (and as a last-minute write-in in the general for the partial term).

In that contest, Peltola won 35 percent, Palin 31 percent and Begich 27 percent with 69 percent of votes reporting.

Some Republicans in the state are worried that Palin and Begich have focused all of their energy on tarring each other, to the exclusion of attacking Peltola. That, they worry, could have the effect of making the alternative Republican too radioactive for GOP voters to rank second, perhaps giving Peltola a window to sneak through instead. 

While polling in Alaska is scant — the enormous, sparsely populated state is notoriously difficult to survey — oddsmakers have given Begich the edge, due to Palin’s polarizing profile. Some in the state haven’t forgotten that she stepped down from her role as governor in 2009, chasing high-profile opportunities like her short-lived reality show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska

Begich has homed in on that emotion, calling Palin a “quitter” who abandoned Alaska in search of fame. 

Palin has labeled Begich a RINO (Republican in name only) and attacked the Biden administration extensively. She finished first in the primary for the partial term, though only with 27 percent of the vote. 

Amid the intraparty bickering, some race watchers are giving Peltola a decent chance to squeak out a win amid the split GOP votes. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, though, has stayed out of the race, a decision Peltola described to the Washington Post as “bizarre.” 

The DCCC may be keeping its powder dry for the full-term race, given the amount of territory it’ll have to defend this cycle. Democrats currently have 220 House seats to Republicans’ 211, with four vacancies to be filled. While projections have increasingly begun to favor Democrats holding the Senate, Republicans are usually still projected to flip the House. 

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