Updated Sep 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Democrat Mary Peltola defeats Sarah Palin in Alaska special election

Democrat Mary Peltola, wearing a red and gray jacket, white shirt, pearl necklace and black pants, poses for a photo in front of a dark blue backdrop.
Democrat Mary Peltola. Photo: Ash Adams for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Democrat Mary Peltola on Wednesday won the special election to represent Alaska's lone U.S. House seat, per the Alaska Division of Elections.

Why it matters: Peltola's victory is a major upset in a state that voted for former President Trump by 10 points in 2020, and it makes her the first Alaska Native elected to Congress.

  • Peltola will also be the first Democrat to represent the seat in nearly half a century. Republican Don Young held it from 1973 until his death in March.
  • She defeated Republican Sarah Palin, the former governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee who had Trump's endorsement.

How it happened: Peltola advanced to the general election in the top-four blanket primary in June along with Palin and businessman Nick Begich, a more mainstream Republican.

  • Independent Al Gross, a surgeon and 2020 U.S. Senate candidate, dropped out of the race shortly after advancing in the primary and endorsed Peltola.
  • The general election, which was ranked-choice, saw Peltola hold a commanding 9-point lead over Palin in first-preference votes. She ultimately won with 52% to Palin's 49%.
  • While half of Begich's votes went to Palin in the second round, nearly 30% went to Peltola and another 21% ranked neither candidate as their second choice.

The backdrop: Peltola, who is Yup'ik, served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1999 to 2009.

  • She campaigned on her support for abortion rights, climate action and organized labor, as well as her knowledge of the state's prominent fishing industry.
  • She also sought to strike a contrast to Palin's more divisive tone, telling the New York Times, "I think respect is just a fundamental part of getting things done and working through problems."

The big picture: Peltola's win follows a string of Democratic over-performances in House special elections since the Supreme Court overturned landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade in June.

Yes, but: Alaska's new ranked-choice system makes it a unique case that's harder to extrapolate than standard general election contests.

What they're saying: “I look forward to continuing Don Young’s legacy of bipartisanship, serving all Alaskans and building support for Alaska’s interests in DC," Peltola said in a statement.

  • “We built a great deal of momentum in a short time. ... I plan to continue introducing myself to Alaskans and working to earn their trust.”
  • Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that Peltola's win "sends a resounding message that only confirms what we already know: Voters across this country are furious over Republicans’ extreme attacks on their fundamental freedoms."

The other side: In a statement, Palin took a shot at ranked-choice voting — which she had railed against throughout the campaign — arguing it has "effectively disenfranchised 60% of Alaska voters."

  • "Though we’re disappointed in this outcome, Alaskans know I’m the last one who’ll ever retreat. Instead, I’m going to reload," she said.

What's next: The special election was only to determine who fills the rest of Young's term, which ends on Jan. 3.

  • Peltola, Palin, Begich and fishing guide Chris Bye, a libertarian, will face off in another ranked-choice election in November after advancing in a primary last week.
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