Two of the most famous surnames in 21st century Republican politics are on ballots Tuesday.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, formerly the third-ranking House Republican, is in danger of losing her seat to a primary challenger backed by Donald Trump after Cheney helped lead the investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, is running with Trump’s support in a special election to fill a vacancy in Alaska’s statewide congressional district, but is not assured of victory.
Alaska and Wyoming are two of the least-populous states and the only two states holding elections Tuesday, though they attracted outsized national attention because Cheney and Palin’s political careers are on the line. Both states also have a sole House district.
Here’s a look at races to watch:
Senate (Trump won Alaska 53%-43%): Lisa Murkowski is the only Republican senator seeking re-election this year of the seven who voted to convict Trump over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
She will likely advance to the Nov. 8 general election even if she receives fewer votes Tuesday than Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka (R). That’s because Alaska voters in the 2020 election ended party primaries and adopted a nonpartisan “Top 4″ primary in which all candidates appear on one ballot and the top four finishers advance to the general election. In 2010, Murkowski lost the Republican primary but was re-elected that November as a write-in candidate.
Murkowski, a senator since 2002, and Tshibaka, who formerly led Alaska’s Department of Administration, are the only two candidates running well-funded campaigns and are all but guaranteed two of the four berths in the Nov. 8 election. Less clear is who will win the other two spots.
None of the other 17 candidates sharing Tuesday’s ballot with Murkowski and Tshibaka — three Democrats, six Republicans, and eight independents or members of other parties — raised more than $50,000 through July 27, Federal Election Commission reports show. The Alaska Democratic Party endorsed retired educator Patricia Chesbro, who probably will advance.
Murkowski’s ability to win a fourth full term may hinge on votes from Democrats and independents in the Nov. 8 election, which will be held under new ranked-choice voting rules that permit voters to rank candidates in order of preference instead of only choosing one.
House: Ranked-choice voting will be used in Tuesday’s special election to fill the vacancy created when Don Young (R) died in March after more than 49 years representing Alaska’s only congressional district.
Three candidates are on the ballot — Palin, businessman Nick Begich III (R), and former state Rep. Mary Peltola (D) — and none is likely to win the requisite majority of votes on the first ballot count.
Peltola is likely to finish first because she’s the only Democrat on the ballot, and Begich and Palin are both competing for Republican votes. Under ranked-choice voting rules, the second-place finisher would compete against the top vote-getter in a second round of ballot-counting. The third-place candidate would be eliminated, and people who voted for that candidate as their first choice would have their votes redistributed to their second choice.
The winner won’t be known until at least Aug. 31 — 15 days after the election, when Alaska election officials certify the results.
In Republican-leaning Alaska, Begich would be a clear favorite over Peltola in a second count of ballots, though Peltola may have a shot at upsetting Palin, who’s a polarizing political figure.
Begich began campaigning for the seat last October, when Young was planning to seek re-election. He’s a Republican from a family of Democratic officeholders: his uncle Mark Begich was a US senator from 2009 to 2015, and his grandfather Nick Begich was Alaska’s House member in October 1972 when a plane carrying him and then-House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (D-La.) disappeared while on a campaign flight in Alaska. Young was elected to fill the vacancy.
Begich’s supporters include Americans for Prosperity Action, a super PAC with libertarian leanings that’s funded in part by Koch Industries and paid for an extensive door-knocking and mail campaign. Bernadette Wilson, a senior adviser to the group, described Begich as a “policy champion” on issues including natural resource development.
The special election will be held at the same time as the regular primary for a full two-year term beginning in January. Palin, Begich, and Peltola are among the 22 candidates seeking the four Nov. 8 ballot spots along with Tara Sweeney (R), a former Trump Interior official who finished fifth in the special primary.
Palin placed first in that election, followed by Begich. The third-place finisher, independent Al Gross, withdrew after the special primary and urged his supporters to back Peltola, who placed fourth.
House (Trump won Wyoming 70%-27%): Cheney’s perilous political standing in the primary owes to her being the most conspicuous anti-Trump Republican officeholder who’s seeking re-election. She’s doing it in a state that gave Trump his greatest vote share in the 2020 election: 70%.
Trump’s preferred candidate is Harriet Hageman, a lawyer and former Republican National Committee member. Hageman led Cheney 57% to 28% in a University of Wyoming poll conducted July 25 to Aug. 6 of 562 likely primary voters. Hageman’s donors include House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who ousted Cheney from that leadership post in May 2021, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.).
Cheney, the vice chair of the Jan. 6 select committee that held multiple televised hearings, leaned into her role as the leading Republican antagonist to Trump. “If we do not condemn these lies, if we do not hold those responsible to account, we will be excusing this conduct and it will become a feature of all elections,” she said in a video her campaign released Aug. 11 and described as her closing message.
Cheney’s father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a TV ad described Trump as “a coward” and said there’s “never been an individual who was a greater threat to our republic.”
Liz Cheney’s high-profile role debunking Trump’s lies about the 2020 election overshadowed her conservative voting record over three House terms. Even as she became a pariah in her party, Cheney voted with Republicans and against Democratic bills on government spending, abortion, infrastructure, policing, immigration, and the environment.
Cheney did break with most Republicans earlier this summer to vote for a gun-safety package (Public Law 117-159), to codify same-sex marriage in federal law (H.R. 8404), and to support domestic semiconductor research and development (Public Law 117-167).
Cheney had $7.5 million in her campaign account as of July 27. She won’t have spent all or most of that by Tuesday’s election, though Cheney could use any leftover money on a future bid for political office.
Cheney’s defeat would mean that no more than two of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump will return for the 118th Congress next January.
Only Dan Newhouse (Wash.) and David Valadao (Calif.) advanced in their primaries against weak opposition, and Valadao is at risk of losing his seat in November.
Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Peter Meijer (Mich.), and Tom Rice (S.C.) were ousted in the primaries. Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), John Katko (N.Y.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), and Fred Upton (Mich.) aren’t seeking re-election.
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at email@example.com