ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) — In one week, Alaska voters will head to the polls for midterm primaries. But on the flip side of the regular ballot they will find a special election to decide which of three candidates to send to Capitol Hill to finish out the late Republican Don Young’s seat in the House of Representatives.
Whoever voters choose Aug. 16 may not be in Congress long: The term for Young's seat ends in January. Voters will decide in November who will serve after that.
The primary election will also mark Alaska’s first use of ranked-choice voting.
Young, known as “Dean of the House,” was the longest-serving Republican in congressional history, having been the U.S. representative for Alaska's at-large congressional district for 49 years, from 1973 until his unexpected death in March. A special open June primary whittled the 48 contenders vying for Young's seat down to the top four vote-getters. However, only three candidates made it on ballot — Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola — after the third-place finisher, independent Al Gross, dropped out of the race. Voters will be asked to rank these candidates in order of preference.
Palin’s run for Congress is her first campaign for elected office since quitting as governor in 2009 and as vice presidential candidate on the failed 2008 Republican presidential ticket alongside then-Senator John McCain of Arizona. Palin has been mostly absent in the Last Frontier since standing on the podium next to Trump at a July 9 “Save America Rally” in Anchorage. She’s opted instead to attend national GOP fundraising events in the Lower 48 and declined invitations to several in-state candidate forums attended by her rivals.
“Sarah Palin is Alaska’s ambassador, and her ability to leverage existing relationships with influential leaders from all over the country is one of the main reasons she is ready to hit the ground running,” Palin’s campaign manager, Kris Perry, said in a written statement after Palin missed an Aug. 5 forum hosted by the Soldotna and Kenai Chambers of Commerce. The fishing, boating and tourism-based communities are about five hours south of Anchorage.
Palin also did not respond to an invitation by the Anchorage Daily News, the state’s largest newspaper, for candidates to present their priorities if elected and give their views on key issues ahead of the primary. The newspaper published the piece on Aug. 6.
Begich, 44, is founder of a reported million-dollar software development company and the grandson of Democrat Nick Begich Sr., who served as Alaska's congressman until he disappeared in a plane crash in 1972. He is also the nephew of former U.S. Senator Mark Begich and current state Senator Tom Begich, both Democrats. The younger Begich has often said his biggest challenge in the campaign has been convincing voters that, unlike his grandfather and two uncles, he’s a Republican.
With that statement and by campaigning as a more conservative alternative to Don Young, long before the congressman’s untimely death, the Alaska Republican Party has endorsed Begich. Despite stating he will vote red for first and second rankings on the ballot he has knocked Palin for her repeated no-shows to forums.
Peltola, 48, served in the Alaska Legislature for a decade, representing the Bethel area, a predominantly Alaska Native region in the western part of the state. As a Yup’ik woman, a victory for her would mean the first Alaska Native to Congress. Peltola has a long history of making fellow politicians her friends rather than enemies and declined on several occasions to comment negatively about Palin’s absences.
“I have a proven track record of working in a nonpartisan way with all of my former colleagues in the Legislature. I also have a proven track record of creating bipartisan coalitions to address real Alaskan challenges,” she stated to the daily news Q&A.