Laraine Derr opens a bag of ballots for scanning on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 at the Division 1 office of the Alaska Division of Elections in Juneau, Alaska as Aaron Suring watches. Derr and Suring were among elections workers counting ballots in Alaska’s special U.S. House primary election. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
The four finalists for Alaska’s special U.S. House election have been decided.
Based on results tallied through Wednesday evening, Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III, independent candidate Al Gross and Democratic candidate Mary Peltola will be the options for Alaska’s first ranked-choice election on Aug. 16.
The winner of that election will fill the remaining term of former Congressman Don Young and serve in Congress until January, when the winner of the November general election is seated.
The Alaska Division of Elections will continue counting votes through June 21, but with 134,179 ballots counted, Palin had 28.2% of the vote, Begich 19.2%, Gross 12.7% and Peltola 8.9%.
The final results are expected to be certified on or about June 25.
The margin between Peltola and the candidate in fifth place, Tara Sweeney, increased as more ballots were counted on Wednesday.
“I feel very confident that the top four is set. I think that for another candidate to knock out someone else would be difficult to do, statistically speaking,” Begich said.
Palin was more cautious about the final result, saying, “like everything else, I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Gross campaign consultant David Keith also was cautious, but Peltola campaign manager Kim Jones said she is confident her candidate’s lead will hold through certification.
Sweeney herself acknowledged defeat in a prepared statement that said in part, “My goal was to get into the top four in the special election. Based on the release of returns from the Division of Elections, it looks like I will fall just short.”
Palin attributed her place at the top of the results to a variety of factors, including her “love and passion for Alaska” and Alaskans’ frustration with the federal government.
“We have to focus on policies that are going to make life better for the regular Joe Sixpack out there, those of us who are having a tough time, figuring out why government is in our way, it’s on our back, it’s not on our side,” she said.
Though she has been out of elected office for more than a decade, Palin said she believes Alaskans remember her record as a governor and a mayor, despite opponents’ efforts to portray her as an out-of-touch celebrity.
“People who know me respect my record, and I think that plays a part in the vote also, because people, they want you to know that you do have some chops when it comes to politics and how to fight for what’s right, and how to be courageous in the face of constant criticism, to grow thick skin. People who know me know that’s who I am, and I’m ready, willing and able to go serve,” Palin said, adding thanks for her supporters.
Though he finished second to Palin, Begich said the results give him more confidence as the special general-election campaign begins.
“Based on the data that we’ve seen, a large portion of the votes that did not go to a top-four candidate will come over to our column,” he said. “And so we expect things on the ground in the final four setting to really tighten up and, actually, for us to have a slight advantage going into the general election.”
More than 70% of participating voters did not choose Palin, Begich said.
“I think that sends a clear message that Alaskans are ready for some new energy, a fresh perspective,” he said.
Al Gross ran his successful campaign with a network of supporters from his unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate two years ago.
In that race, Gross won the Democratic primary as an independent and received extensive support from Democrats inside and outside the state. With a Democrat in this new race, does Gross have a political lane?
“You bet he does,” Keith said. “It’s a hell of a lane. It’s a lane that any American politician would want to run in. And it’s one that’s called ‘the parties are awful.’”
The special primary election was Alaska’s first-ever statewide vote-by-mail campaign, and Jones said the Peltola campaign’s numbers show most Gross supporters picked him early in the monthlong voting window.
“It did take us a few weeks to get her campaign set up, and in that time, I think votes went to other candidates that will go to her in August. So I feel really good about it,” Jones said.
Peltola isn’t a millionaire, Jones said, something that distinguishes her from the other three finalists.
Jones noted that all four finalists will now simultaneously run in the ranked-choice special election and the ordinary primary election for U.S. House.
Thirty-one candidates, including 20 who failed to make the top four in the special election, are running in the regular primary.
“This is the fun part,” Jones said. “We’re actually now running two simultaneous campaigns. We’re running for the special general, and we’re running for the regular primary. And I think Mary getting in the top four in the special really gives her a lot of viability that will make the August primary a lot easier on her.”
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.