Her Alaskan Election Surprise May Lead to History

Democrat Mary Peltola has a decent chance to become first Alaska Native in Congress
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 18, 2022 12:37 PM CDT
Her Alaskan Election Surprise May Lead to History
Democrat Mary Peltola smiles at supporters after delivering remarks at a fundraiser on Friday in Juneau, Alaska.   (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

(Newser) – One of the bigger surprises from this week's primary voting came out of Alaska, where Democrat Mary Peltola leads Sarah Palin and a slew of other Republicans in the race to be the state's lone member of Congress. The seat is vacant because of the death of Republican Don Young, who held it for nearly 50 years. But Peltola's strong showing is drawing attention not only because the seat could potentially flip parties. Coverage:

  • Possible history: The 48-year-old Peltola, a former state lawmaker, would be the first Indigenous person from Alaska, as well as the first woman from the state, to serve in Congress, per the Hill. Peltola is Yu'pik.
  • The surprise: Peltola's current first-place standing (final results may not be known for a few weeks in the far-flung state) "defied expectations" in "deep-red" Alaska, notes the Hill. In fact, she was the only Democrat in a field of 22 primary candidates, per the New York Times. "We're all hopeful, of course, but you hate to jinx anything," says Peltola, per Alaska Public Media. "And so I am definitely going to be waiting for all the districts to come in and all the absentee ballots to come in."

  • About her: The Times profile finds that Peltola has "a reputation for kindness, even to the Republicans she is trying to beat." The piece notes that she and Palin—who were pregnant at the same time when Palin was governor and Peltola a state lawmaker—texted each other well wishes on Election Day. She's known for reaching across political boundaries to reach consensus—"I think respect is just a fundamental part of getting things done"—though she differs from her GOP rivals on substantive issues, including her support of abortion rights, her warnings about climate change, and her preference to emphasize sustainable communities over corporate access to the state's natural resources.
  • Two chances: Peltola actually leads in two races for Young's seat. The first is a special election to fill the remainder of it through the end of the year, the second is the primary for the full term starting in January. Winning the special election would give her an incumbent's advantage in the November general election for the latter race. She leads Palin and another Republican, Nick Begich, in both the special election (38%-32%-29%) and the primary (35-31-27), per Alaska Public Media.
  • Ranked election: Alaska employed a ranked-choice election for the first time this year, meaning the results are a little tricky to gauge because votes get redistributed as candidates get eliminated, per KCAW. For example, if Begich gets eliminated and enough of his supporters ranked Palin as their second choice, that could give her the edge over Peltola. But "if Palin ends up finishing third, she'll be eliminated and most of her support would likely go to Begich, leading to his election," per FiveThirtyEight. Unless voters ranked Peltola as their second choice and—well, the only thing to do is stay tuned as all the votes are counted and things sort themselves out.
(Read more Alaska stories.)

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