Democrat Mary Peltola defeats Sarah Palin to become first Native Alaskan woman to win congressional race

Controversial former vice-presidential candidate’s bid to return to frontline politics dramatically falls short

Eric Garcia
Thursday 01 September 2022 14:56 BST
Alaskans Vote To Fill Rare U.S. House Vacancy
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Former state legislator Mary Peltola beat former governor Republican governor Sarah Palin to become the first Democrat to represent Alaska in Congress in almost fifty years.

Ms Peltola, a former state representative whose mother was Yup’ik, will also be the first Native Alaskan to represent the state since it formally joined the union as a state in 1959.

She responded to the result by tweeting: “It is a GOOD DAY.”

NBC News reported that Ms Peltola had secured 51.5 per cent of the vote (91,206 votes), while Ms Palin managed 48.5 per cent 85,987 votes).

Alaska’s sole congressional seat opened earlier this year when Representative Don Young, the longest-serving Republican congressman, died. Mr Young won a special election himself in 1973.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi congratulated Ms Peltola on being the first Alaska Native ever elected to Congress.

“Her valuable and unifying perspective, deep experience in public service and commitment to working families will strengthen the work of our Caucus and the Congress,” Ms Pelosi said in a statement.

The White House also said that President Joe Biden congratulated her.

“The President congratulated her for her historic victory in the Alaska special election Wednesday,” the White House said. “The two had a very warm conversation where he told her he looks forward to working with her to lower costs for working families in Alaska when she is sworn into her seat in Congress. He also wished her a very happy birthday.”

The race serves as a boon to Democrats after they held a seat in a special election in New York’s 19th district last week. It also shows the salience of protecting abortion rights after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v Jackson decision overturned Roe v Wade earlier this year. Ms Peltola ran heavily on protecting abortion rights along with focusing heavily on worker’s rights and fishing in the state.

Ms Peltola win marks Alaska’s first test of its new ranked-choice voting system, wherein the top four voter recipients head to the general election. In the general election, voters rank their choices in order of preferences.

Sarah Palin’s bid to return to frontline politics fell short (Getty Images)

After the first round of votes are counted, the candidate who earned the fewest number of votes is eliminated and voters’ second choice earns their votes. This continues until one candidate receives more than half the vote.

The Democrat’s victory comes despite the fact Republicans’ aggressive “Rank the Red” campaign to ensure that Republican voters ranked Mr Begich and Ms Palin as their top-two choices.

Ms Peltola will serve the duration of Mr Young’s term until January and then will also have to run for a full term against Ms Palin and Nick Begich, along with Libertarian candidate Chris Bye after fellow Republican Tara Sweeney ended her campaign.

Ms Palin hit the national stage in 2008 when Republican presidential candidate John McCain made her his surprise pick as vice-presidential candidate – the first Republican woman chosen for the role.

She had served as mayor of Wasilla before being elected governor in 2006.

Her vice presidential run made her a hero of right-wing media, even as she accused Barack Obama of “palling around” with terrorists and made a series of gaffes that were highly scrutinised.

Nevertheless, Ms Palin earned the affection of many movement conservatives and she resigned the governorship less than a year after she became a right-wing celebrity.

She frequently appeared on Fox News and campaigned for conservative primary challengers – including against her fellow Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, when she endorsed Tea Party challenger Joe Miller in the 2010 Republican primary.

Ms Murkowski for her part congratulated Ms Peltola on her victory.

“Mary made history today; not just state history, but national history, as the first Alaska Native woman elected to Congress,” she said.

Her persona also served as a precursor for President Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party and Ms Palin was the only former Republican presidential or vice presidential former nominee to endorse Mr Trump in the 2016 GOP primary. Mr Trump would later return the favour when he endorsed Ms Palin’s congressional run fairly early and campaigned with her this year.

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