A groundbreaking new voting structure. The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. Santa Claus. What Not the special election for Alaska’s seat in the US House of Representatives?
Well, a winner. This Saturday is technical election day for the first round of the special election being held to replace legendary former Rep. Don Young, the longest-serving Republican in House history died March 18. However, as most of the elections are conducted by mail and ballots are not due until June 21st, we won’t know which candidates have advanced to the second round until later in the month. And of course we only know who actually wins the seat after the federal election date August 16th.
But the primary is very interesting on its own. First, a field of is screened out 48 candidates(!) until four. Why four and not two? Because after the passage of on electoral reform electoral measure In 2020, Alaska now uses a unique top-four primary system where all candidates (regardless of party) run on the same ballot, and the top four finishers advance to the general election. (In another twist, ranked voting is also used in general elections.)
There are three frontrunners that are likely to make the cut. The first is a familiar name not only to Alaskans but to most Americans as well: former Governor Sarah Palin. It feels like ages ago, but Palin was one of the most popular governors in the country when she was elected running mate for former Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. But her rising star went out shortly thereafter: She was seen nationally as unqualified for office, and in 2009 (after losing the vice presidency) she unexpectedly resigned from the governorship (apparently because ethics investigations against them took a financial and mental toll). For the next few yearsthere was speculation that she would do it run for office again, but she never did — until this year.
Today, however, Palin is not popular in Alaska – according to a Survey from May 6th to 9th According to Alaska Survey Research, 59 percent of likely special election voters had a negative opinion of her, while only 36 percent had a positive opinion. But she still has a small, loyal following, which earned her 19 percent of the primary votes same poll, more than any other candidate. And among that fanbase is a very important non-Alaskan: former President Donald Trump, who did she endorsed.
However, one Republican with more room to grow could be businessman Nick Begich III. Unlike Palin – who bought a house in Arizona after their governorship — Begich’s Alaska ties are rock-solid: His grandfather was former Rep. Nick Begich Sr., whose disappeared in 1972 triggered it special choice that got Young into Congress. (The older Begich was actually a Democrat, but the younger says he was a “lifelong Republican.”) Begich also raised $1.2 million (including $650,000 in equity financing) to Palin’s $631,690and he’s enjoying the Alaska Republican Party approval. He also snagged 16 percent in this Alaska Survey Research poll, which was good for second place.
The third frontrunner is Fischer doctor Al Gross, the only other candidate to have raised more than a quarter million dollars (he grew up $545,745) and the only other candidate to register in double digits in the Alaska Survey Research poll (13 percent). Gross is a contender in part because he has plenty of notoriety left over from his 2020 campaign for the US Senate, which could help him garner support from liberal (or at least non-conservative) Alaskans; Despite being an independent, he ran as the Democratic nominee in 2020. But this time it’s big leave the door open to agree with both parties if he wins, which led to a messy separation with the actual Democrats of the state.
That leaves a vacancy for fourth and last place in August’s general election. Financially best placed is former Deputy Home Secretary Tara Sweeney, who grew up $231,364 and has also benefited from it $434,652 in super PAC editions. Sweeney, who would be the first Alaskan native to serve in Congress, has pitched himself as “a Republican of Ted Stevens and Don Young” in reference to two longtime former lawmakers who focused more on constituent services and appropriations than conservative dogma.
Or – and I can’t believe this is real, serious political analysis – name recognition could propel Santa into the general election. Klaus (a real human) is a councilor in North Pole (a real city) and is essentially that race’s Senator Bernie Sanders—a self-proclaimed “independent, progressive, democratic socialist.” Although he doesn’t accept campaign contributions, 59 percent of likely voters in the Alaska Survey Research poll were able to form an opinion about him, more than any other candidate except Palin, Begich and Gross. Finishing fourth in this poll was enough for him, albeit within the margin of error.
There are also several candidates with more traditional resumes and points in their favour. Republican John Coghill, for example, still has 52 percent recognition (as measured by the proportion of likely voters who can form an opinion about him) from when he was Senate Majority Leader. Meanwhile, it was Republican Senator Josh Revak who used to work for Young confirmed by his widow. And Anchorage Rep. Christopher Constant, former Rep. Mary Peltola (who would also be the first Alaskan Native in Congress), and Rep. Adam Wool all have the benefit of being indeed democrats; If they don’t vote for Gross, Alaska’s Democratic voters have to vote for someone. However, the problem with all of these candidates is that they all raised very little moneyand none of them registered above 5 percent in the poll.
Honestly though, it doesn’t matter who snatches fourth place. In general elections, the first-place candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his support redistributed to the candidates whose voters are second-place. So unless the face of the race changes drastically over the next two months, Saturday’s fourth-place finisher will likely be the first to retire in August. That’s what the poll by Alaska Survey Research finally found, regardless of whether Sweeney, constant, Peltola or Klaus was the fourth candidate.
Additionally, in each scenario, it was Begich who emerged victorious after all ranked voting rounds were completed. That’s certainly not guaranteed after two months of campaigning, but it makes sense as a starting point: Begich is the ideological middle choice among the three top candidates. If Palin is eliminated second, most of their support will likely go to Republican Begich, not Gross. And if Gross is eliminated second, most of his support will likely go to Begich, not Palin.
Again, the outcome of this special election is far from certain, but it seems at least possible that this is an election where the election by precedence could make a significant difference. Because of her high profile, Palin could very well finish the primary in first place. Under the old system (and what most other states use), this would have made her the Republican nominee, and in a red state like Alaska she would likely have won the general election against the Democrats — despite her unpopularity. But the Alaska system prevents them from winning with just a majority of the vote and ensures that the winner is someone who can (ultimately) get majority support. That probably won’t be Palin.