JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Democrat Mary Peltola won the special election for the lone U.S. House seat in Alaska on Wednesday, beating a field that included Republican Sarah Palin, who was seeking a political comeback in the State where she was once governor.
Peltola, who is Yup’ik and turned 49 on Wednesday, will become the first Alaskan native to serve in the House and the first woman to hold the seat. She will serve the remaining months of the late Republican U.S. Representative Don Young’s term. Young held the seat for 49 years before his death in March.
“I don’t think there will be another anniversary like today,” Peltola said.
“Truly, I am so grateful to Alaskans and all Alaskans who trusted me to fulfill the remainder of Congressman Young’s term,” she said in an interview. “My desire is to follow Congressman Young’s legacy of representing all Alaskans, and I just can’t wait to get to work.”
Peltola’s victory, in Alaska’s first statewide vote-by-choice election, is a boon for Democrats, especially on better-than-expected performances in special elections nationwide this year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. She will be the first Democrat to hold the seat since the late U.S. Representative Nick Begich, who was seeking re-election in 1972 when his plane went missing. Begich was later declared dead and Young in 1973 was elected to the seat.
Peltola ran as a coalition builder while his two Republican opponents – Palin and Begich’s grandson, also named Nick Begich – occasionally chased each other. Palin also spoke out against the ranked voting system, which was instituted by voters in Alaska.
All three – Peltola, Palin and Begich – are running in the November general election, seeking two-year terms beginning in January.
The results came 15 days after the Aug. 16 election, meeting the deadline for state election officials to receive mail-in ballots sent from outside the United States. with state election officials broadcasting the event live. Peltola was leading before the tabs, followed by Palin and then Begich.
State election officials plan to certify the election by Friday.
Leaders of the Alaska Democratic Party cheered Peltola’s victory.
“Alaskans have made it clear that they want a rational, firm, honest and caring voice to speak for them in Washington DC, not the opportunists and extremists associated with the Alaska Republican Party,” the party chairman said. State Democrat Michael Wenstrup in a statement.
Wednesday’s results were a disappointment for Palin, who was seeking a political comeback 14 years after she was thrust onto the national stage when John McCain picked her to be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election. for the House seat, she had wide name recognition and won the endorsement of former President Donald Trump.
After Peltola’s victory was announced, Palin called the ranked voting system “crazy, convoluted, confusing.”
“While we are disappointed with this result, Alaskans know that I am the last to retreat,” Palin said in a statement.
Begich in a statement congratulated Peltola on looking forward to the November elections.
During the campaign, critics questioned Palin’s commitment to Alaska, citing her decision to step down as governor in July 2009, halfway through her term. Palin became a conservative television commentator and appeared on reality television programs, among other activities.
Palin insisted her commitment to Alaska never wavered and said ahead of the special election that she’s “signed up for the long haul.”
Peltola, a former state legislator who recently worked for a commission whose goal is to restore the salmon resources of the Kuskokwim River, introduced herself as an “ordinary” Alaskan. “I am not a millionaire. I am not an international celebrity,” she said.
Peltola said she hopes the new system will allow more moderate candidates to be elected.
During the campaign, she highlighted her support for abortion rights and said she wanted to elevate issues of ocean productivity and food security. Peltola said she received a boost after June’s special primary when she won the endorsement of Democrats and independents who entered the race. She said she believed her positive message also resonated with voters.
“It’s been very appealing to a lot of people to have a message of working together and positivity and supporting each other and unity and as Americans none of us are the enemy of one another. the other,” she said. “It’s just a message people really need to hear right now.”
Voters in Alaska in 2020 approved an electoral process that replaced party primaries with open primaries. Under the new system, preferential voting is used in general elections.
In preferential voting, ballots are counted in rounds. A candidate can win with more than 50% of the votes in the first round. If no one reaches this threshold, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose this candidate as their first choice have their votes count towards their next choice. Rounds continue until two candidates remain, and whoever has the most votes wins.
In Alaska, voters last backed a Democrat for president in 1964. The number of registered voters who are unaffiliated with a party is greater than the number of registered Republicans or Democrats combined, according to statistics from the Division of Elections.
The final Democratic member of Alaska’s congressional delegation was Mark Begich, the uncle of Nick Begich, who served one term in the US Senate and lost his re-election bid in 2014.
US Senators from Alaska, Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, congratulated Peltola.
Murkowski said Peltola “has a long history of public service in our great state.” Murkowski and Peltola were in the state legislature together.
Follow AP coverage of the 2022 midterm elections: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections
Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press