Alaska vote tests Trump’s influence, Palin’s bid and a new election system

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ANCHORAGE – Sarah Palin’s bid to join the U.S. House, Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s bid to retain her Senate seat and Donald Trump’s influence in both of their races will be tested in two simultaneous elections in Alaska on Tuesday – with voters casting ballots in unusual new conditions.

on one side of ballot paper, Alaskans will vote in a three-way special general election to fill the remainder of the House term vacated by Republican Don Young, who was the chamber’s longest-serving member until his sudden death in March. The 45th president has endorsed Palin, a former governor and vice-presidential candidate, over fellow Republican Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola. The election will be the first in Alaska to use the ranked-choice system adopted by voters in 2020.

In the traditional voting system, voters choose only one candidate. With ranked-choice voting, they rank candidates in order of preference. Here’s how it works. (Video: Darron Taylor/The Washington Post)

Definite results may not be determined for at least two weeks. State election officials say they won’t begin counting second choices and redistributing votes until the absentee ballot deadline, and political observers see a race without a runaway candidate.

On the other side of the ballot is Murkowski’s Senate primary, where she faces Trump-backed Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former divisional commissioner in Alaska state government. Throughout the primary season, Trump has sought to oust Republicans across the country whom he considers hostile to him. Murkowski filed a 2018 Supreme Court case against Brett M. After voting against Kavanaugh’s nomination, Trump launched a strong attack on her and predicted her political demise.

Unlike in 2010, when Murkowski lost to a tea party candidate in the Republican primary and won the general election only after a write-in campaign, she is favored to advance to the November general election on Tuesday. That’s because of Alaska’s new open primary system, in which all 19 US Senate candidates appear on a single, nonpartisan ballot, with the top four advancing to the November ballot.

Murkowski, Tshibaka and Democratic Party-endorsed Pat Chesbrough, a retired principal and superintendent of schools, are considered the front-runners to advance, having made it through the primary with relatively little drama.

“There’s no big expectation as to whether Lisa Murkowski is going to move on,” Murkowski said Sunday in a phone interview from outside Fairbanks, where she was soaking in a pool at a renewable energy fair and local hot springs resort. “So, his experience is different.”

The race to replace Young has become more lively.

Pauline She surprised many Alaskans by filing for her first election at the last minute, following a failed 2008 vice-presidential bid and a year after deciding to step down as governor of Alaska.

Forty-seven others also filed to run in June’s special primary election. They include an Anchorage newspaper gardening columnist, a Southeast Alaska halibut fisherman, and a man legally named Santa Claus — who lives in a North Pole town.

Palin, Begich and Peltola Advanced for the general election, including left-leaning independent Al Gross. But Gross dropped out shortly after, leaving three others as the only candidates on Tuesday’s ballot.

The three finalists in the special election are also candidates in the House primary for the November general election. That race appears on Tuesday’s ballot on the same side of the ballot as the Senate primary. The top four finishers in the pick-one House primaries will advance to November.

With the new ranked-choice system used in special elections, voters state their top preferences for candidates. Unless a candidate receives more than half of the first-choice votes — in which case that candidate will win outright — state election officials will remove the third-place finisher from contention. Their voters’ second choices will then be transferred to the remaining two candidates.

While polling is tight on the race, strategists in the state say they expect most of the first-preference votes to go to Peltola, who would be the first Alaska Native member of the state’s congressional delegation. With Alaska leaning Republican, Begich and Palin are likely to split the conservative vote, he said.

Palin, whose campaign has pushed “energy independence” and attacked President Biden, rallied alongside Trump in a packed Anchorage arena last month. Since then, she has not announced any public events in Alaska and has received support from national conservative figures such as former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Palin spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas earlier this month and blasted the FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club last week.

Palin campaign officials did not respond to requests for comment. Begich noted her absence from events in Alaska.

“Her track record is really about making a case for herself — not for the state, not for the people around her, but really about building her personal brand,” said Begich, the nephew of Democratic former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and Nick’s grandson. Begich, a Democrat who held the Alaska seat in Congress until his plane disappeared in 1972.

Palin, meanwhile, has taken her own shots at Begich, which has some conservatives worried: The two Republicans’ negative campaigns will cost them each other’s second-choice votes, with analysts saying Pelto is more likely to be elected.

“You want them to see their second choice as someone they can live with. You can’t turn a second choice into someone they’ll never vote for,” said Anchorage-based GOP strategist Sarah Erkman Ward. If Peltola wins the special election, she added, “Republicans will have a collective moment where they need to reevaluate their policy.”

Meanwhile, Peltola’s campaign has focused more on local issues, such as the return of salmon to some of Alaska’s rivers, and she touted her background as a fisheries manager.

She responded to attack ads linked to Biden and raised gas prices by joking that residents of her rural Southwest Alaska area would be happy to pay $5 a gallon, because the prices are too high.

Peltola, however, has emphasized her support for abortion rights, and her volunteers are calling on independents and moderate Republicans — especially women — in an effort to take away first- and second-choice votes.

The Alaska election is the latest in a series of special US House elections held in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. Roe v. crazy, which established a constitutional right to abortion. Democrats and partisan analysts has been told They see signs of more Democratic optimism about the midterms in special election results. But he acknowledged that Biden and his party face significant political headwinds.

Alaska-based activists across the political spectrum say Pelto has a realistic chance of winning Tuesday’s election, while national party groups such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have so far stayed out of the race.

Peltola, in a phone interview Sunday, called the decision “strange,” though she said she wanted to tell voters she was “just a regular Alaskan” and not a “DC politician.” Her allies, meanwhile, are hoping Pelto will garner more support in November’s general election, when she will be running for a full two-year term in Congress.

“It’s understandable, when Democrats are on the defensive, that they’ve been wary of investing and learning in more red states,” said John-Henry Heckendorn, an Anchorage political consultant who worked with Peltola’s campaign. “But I think it’s pretty clear to people that if they don’t invest in this race, they’re missing a huge opportunity.”

DCCC spokeswoman Maddie Mundy said in a statement that ranked-choice voting could create new opportunities for the party. “We are watching this race closely and look forward to seeing the final results of Tuesday’s election,” Mundy said.

If Palin is dropped, enough of her voters are expected to place Begich second that he will come back to beat Peltola, said Evan Moore, whose Alaska Survey research firm has done some of the sole polling on the race. But if Begich, a businessman and software entrepreneur, finishes third, Moore said, he expects Peltola to win, as many Alaskans have opted to rank Palin as their second choice.

“It catches up with you when you get to the final two,” Moore said in a phone interview Sunday.

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