Sweeney drops out of House race after posting disappointing results

An updated count extends Democrat Peltola’s lead over two Republican rivals, but winner will depend on voters’ ranking of candidates

By: - August 23, 2022 6:51 pm
Tara Sweeney, candidate for U.S. House, waves signs in Anchorage on Aug. 16. Sweeney was with a group of supporters at the intersection of Northern Lights and Seward, a popular spot for political rallies and demonstrations. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Tara Sweeney, candidate for U.S. House, waves signs in Anchorage on Aug. 16. Sweeney dropped out of the House race on Tuesday, leaving the contest largely up to Democratic former legislator Mary Peltola and two Republicans, former Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Tara Sweeney, the fourth-place candidate in the race to succeed the late Don Young as Alaska’s sole U.S. House member, ended her campaign on Tuesday.

Her travels around the state “reinforced my passion to do whatever I can to make Alaska an even better place to call home,” Sweeney said in a statement. “That said, I have decided to end my campaign for Congress and will file the necessary paperwork to withdraw from the race. Looking at the outcome of the Regular Primary election, I don’t see a path to victory, nor to raise the resources needed to be successful this November.”

Sweeney did not make an endorsement.

Including ballots counted through Tuesday, Sweeney won just 3.72% of the vote in the open primary for the U.S. House seat. As the fourth-place finisher, she had been set to advance to the general election under Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system.

It appears that another candidate will take her place on the general election ballot. “If a candidate who advances out of the primary withdraws 64 or more days before the general election, the fifth place candidate will advance instead,” Tiffany Montemayor, public affairs manager for the state Division of Elections, said by email.

Sitting in that position, as of Tuesday, was Chris Bye, a Libertarian with 0.61% of the vote. However, there are still more votes to count and positions might shift. “The Division will determine the candidates for the general election ballot after the primary results are certified and the September 5 withdrawal deadline,” Montemayor said. An updated count on Tuesday tabulating 21,573 more ballots slightly extended the leads held by Democrat Mary Peltola in both the special election to serve the remaining months of Young’s term and the open primary for the full House term.

Peltola had 38.9% of the vote in the special election, compared to 31.39% for Republican former Gov. Sarah Palin and 28.18% for Republican Nick Begich.

In the open primary for the full House term, the updated count gave Peltola 36.08% of the votes, to Palin’s 30.66% and Begich’s 26.46%, with Sweeney far behind.

The winner of the special election is expected to be determined on Aug. 31, after the deadline for overseas absentee ballots to arrive and when the Division of Elections will tabulate second-choice votes listed on the ballots of voters whose first choices were the third-place and write-in candidates.

A sign displayed on Aug. 3 in the window at the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. headquarters in Utqiagvik urges support for Tara Sweeney in her race for Alaska's sole U.S. House seat. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
A sign displayed on Aug. 3 in the window at the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. headquarters in Utqiagvik urges support for Tara Sweeney in her race for Alaska’s sole U.S. House seat. Sweeney had strong backing from ASRC, where she has served in the past as a top executive, and from other Native corporations, but she wound up with less than 4% of the vote in the Aug. 16 open primary. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

For Sweeney, an Inupiat leader from Utqiagvik who served as the assistant Interior secretary for Indian Affairs in the Trump administration, the House campaign has been disappointing.

She won strong backing in her region, the northernmost in Alaska, and from the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the Native corporation where she had been a top executive, and some other Native corporations. But she failed to advance to a top-four spot in the special election, even though Independent Al Gross dropped out of the race. Gross’ withdrawal was too late for Sweeney to replace him on the ballot.

Sweeney’s decision to quit the race was not surprising, said pollster Ivan Moore.

“I think she looked at the writing on the wall and came to a logical, straightforward position,” he said.

Sweeney was in a difficult spot compared to her rival candidates, Moore said.

“She’s a Republican, and Palin and Begich were sucking up the oxygen on that,” he said. And she was competing with another Native woman, Peltola, who is Yup’ik, he said. 

“She was kind of coming in second on both ends,” Moore said of Sweeney.

In other races, the updated count showed Sen. Lisa Murkowski with a steady lead over Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka. Murkowski, a moderate Republican who voted for conviction in President Trump’s 2021 impeachment trial, had 44.62% percent of the vote. Tshibaka, who has Trump’s endorsement, had 39.26% of the vote. Far behind were Democrat Pat Chesbro at 6.55% percent and Republican Buzz Kelley at 2.16%. All four are set to advance to the general election.

In the governor’s race, the new count put Gov. Mike Dunleavy at 41.02% and had Democrat Les Gara and independent Bill Walker nearly tied. Both had between 22% and 23% of the vote, with a 434-vote lead for Gara. Republican Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce is in fourth place.

The Division of Elections has not counted roughly 11,000 votes that it has said it has received.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the name of the U.S. House candidate currently trailing Tara Sweeney. His name is Chris Bye. 

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Yereth Rosen
Yereth Rosen

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has been reporting on Alaska news ever since, covering stories ranging from oil spills to sled-dog races. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations. She covers environmental issues, energy, climate change, natural resources, economic and business news, health, science and Arctic concerns -- subjects with a lot of overlap. In her free time, she likes to ski and watch her son's hockey games.

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