With Alaska voters turning out in historic numbers for a mid-August election, the 49th state has just elected a Native grandmother from rural Alaska as its temporary congressional representative.
Mary Peltola, a Democrat, is someone with low name recognition from a town of 6,500, far away from the hustle of the political world. Before June, hardly any Alaskans even knew her name.
How did this happen in a state where President Donald Trump won just two years ago by a 10-point margin?
Chalk it up to the new “ranked choice voting” method voted into law by Alaskans in 2020 and tried for the first time on Aug. 16, when Alaska held both a regular primary and a special general election.
In the special general election part of the ballot, Peltola beat the most famous person in Alaska history, Sarah Palin, to fill the remainder of the term of the late Congressman Don Young.
Weeks ago, Dittman Research had accurately predicted Peltola’s strong chance of winning the special election. He and other pollsters who work in Alaska say that Palin’s 63% negative rating with voters, and Peltola’s lack of negatives make it unlikely that Palin could win in a head-to-head with Peltola.
In the second round of tabulating, half of Republican candidate Nick Begich’s voters heeded Begich’s call to “rank the red.” They picked Republican Palin second on their ballots.
But nearly 50% of Begich voters were not of the same “rank the red” mindset. About 29% of Begich voters picked Peltola second. Several conservative, lifelong Republicans told Must Read Alaska they voted for Peltola second to block Palin from office. They find her too polarizing.
Another 20% of voters didn’t vote for anyone else after they picked Begich. Thus, 11,222 ballots were declared “exhausted.”
This is a stunning defeat for Palin. She is a former governor, a former vice-presidential nominee, is endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump, who won in 2016 and 2020. Trump went to the extraordinary length of traveling to Alaska to appear at a rally for Palin this summer.
Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, Rand Paul, Newt Gingrich, Nikki Haley, and a host of other luminaries endorsed the glamorous political star.
Palin also outspent Peltola by a factor of four in this race. She had super PACs from the Lower 48 dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars into supporting her.
Yet Palin was beat by a smiling Yup’ik who last held elected office under a different surname — Mary Sattler, a state legislator from 1999-2009. Peltola has no college degree. She is a Bernie Sanders-style Democrat who has been married three times.
Peltola is yet to be fully defined. Her negatives are mainly that she will align with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden – both are kryptonite to Alaska conservatives and to the state’s economic stability.
Alaska voters have an opportunity to reconsider this stunning upset in the regular general election on Nov. 8, when they will choose, in ranked choice voting, which of four candidates will be the two-year congressional representative starting in January: Peltola, Palin, Begich or Libertarian Chris Bye.
Some say Palin has cost Alaska a Republican in Congress because of her hubris and lack of self-awareness about how she stands with average Alaskans. In the meantime, after 49 years, the Alaska seat in Congress has flipped to blue, taking the political world by surprise, defying conventional wisdom. Why? Not enough conservative Alaskans view Sarah Palin as credible. Too few feel she has the intellectual prowess for the job. The election just demonstrated those views.
The fight isn’t over: Now, Alaska conservatives are trying to figure out how to flip that seat back to the red column in November, knowing that Palin cannot break 50% in Alaska. And everyone from Biden to the local Democratic Party will pour everything they have into keeping that seat blue.
After 49 years, the Alaska seat in Congress has flipped to blue, taking the political world by surprise. On Thursday morning, Cook Political Report changed Alaska’s ranking from Likely Republican to Likely Toss-Up for the first time in history.