Four dozen candidates are battling in this weekend’s special primary election to fill Alaska’s only seat in the House.
Sixteen Republicans and six Democrats make up less than half of the all-party ballot that will decide the finalists to replace GOP Rep. Don Young, who died in March after serving 49 years in Congress.
Former Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican scion of the prominent Democratic Begich family, and North Pole councilman Santa Claus are among the notable names vying to finish in the top four and advance to the special general election.
“Forty-eight names—when you look at them, your eyes cross,” GOP media consultant Art Hackney said. “I expect most Alaskans’ eyes will cross.”
Hackney worked with Young on more than 20 campaigns. He’ll work for software executive Nick Begich III’s campaign after the primary.
Alaska insiders say Palin (R), Begich (R), and 2020 Senate contender Al Gross (I), who raised by far the most money through May 22, are well positioned to advance thanks to their name recognition. That was backed up by Alaska Survey Research and Must Read Alaska polls that found them finishing in the top three.
That leaves one general election pass for the other 45 candidates.
“There are so many variables here that campaigns are just trying to get as creative and do as much hustling as they can to get voters to understand who their candidate is,” said Democratic consultant Martha McKenna, who worked on ads for former state Rep. Mary Peltola’s (D) campaign. “The candidates themselves have been burning the midnight oil to do the same because it’s anybody’s guess. There’s no playbook for an election like this.”
Ballots were sent out on April 27 and must be postmarked by June 11. All primary ballots are mail-in for the first time in Alaska.
The Aug. 16 special general election will use ranked choice voting and coincide with the regularly scheduled primary for the same seat.
Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, has strong name recognition in the state and is well-funded. However, more than half of the respondents in the Must Read Alaska poll reported an unfavorable opinion of her. Palin’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Begich served as a co-chairman for Young’s 2020 re-election campaign. He’s a Republican in a family of Alaska Democrats, including his grandfather, former Rep. Nick Begich Sr., whose death in a 1972 plane crash preceded Young’s special election victory the following year.
Former Sen. Mark Begich (D) and current state Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich (D), who are Nick Begich III’s uncles, endorsed Anchorage Assemblyman Christopher Constant (D). Constant entered the race before Young died.
Gross lost a challenge to Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) in 2020, running as an independent with the backing of the Alaska Democratic Party.
He Sees You When You’re Voting
The fourth-place finisher’s vote share may not eclipse single digits, but the candidate could still affect the outcome of the general election.
Claus (I), who ran fourth in the Alaska Survey Research poll in May, says he’s broadly aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who overwhelmingly won the 2016 Alaska Democratic caucus over Hillary Clinton.
Constant or Peltola would be the only Democrat to advance. Josh Revak or Tara Sweeney would secure a third GOP spot, which could splinter the party vote.
The Young family endorsed Revak, a Republican state senator and Purple Heart veteran.
Sweeney, an Alaska native who served as assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in the Trump Administration, was aided by more than $400,000 in media spending by a super PAC.
“There are a lot of people who consider her to be the most experienced person, and so there’s a lot of people raising money for her, which translates into her being able to introduce herself,” Hackney said.
Peltola is an Alaska native and was a state legislator for 10 years. Her TV ads also spread her name across the state, which could push her into the fourth spot, consultants said.
“Everybody else is sort of fighting for that fourth slot,” McKenna said. “That’s the conventional wisdom, but who knows what’s going to happen?”
To contact the reporter on this story: Mia McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org