Sarah Palin isn’t the only reason Alaska is so politically interesting this year

And that’s just one of the reasons Alaska is so interesting to watch this year. Here’s why midterm competitions are especially worthy of your attention.

1. Palin will test Trump’s approval in a big way

Palin is the most prominent candidate he has backed. But she could lose. More than 50 candidates are running for Alaska’s single seat, which is open for the first time in nearly 50 years after the death of longtime Republican congressman Don Young.

This includes a few long shots — including a man legally named Santa Claus who is a city council member in the North Pole, Alaska — as well as former Young staffers. Another big name in the race is Nick Begich, a Republican from a prominent Democratic political family in Alaska. (The field of competition is mostly Republican, given Alaska’s right-wing leanings. But, fascinatingly, the Democrat who first ran against Young in 1973 is running again: Emil Notti, 89 years, reports Anchorage Daily News.)

Palin is a national household name, but what does it mean in Alaska? She last held office in 2009, when she suddenly resigned as governor; Politico reports that this left a bad taste in voters’ mouths. She also recently lost her libel suit against The New York Times, and Fox News terminated its contract with her years ago. But when it comes to local Alaskan issues, she probably doesn’t have much recent experience or involvement to draw on.

There is a special election in August for Young’s seat, then another in November. And Trump’s most publicized endorsement for the political season could lose before the midterms really begin.

2. Trump is trying to remove the Republican Alaskan senator from politics

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol events, and she has since been one of his biggest targets. She is up for re-election this year, and he has endorsed fellow Republican, Kelly Tshibaka. It’s a sizable move in the state that voted for him over Biden by 10 points. The Alaska Republican Party also endorsed Tshibaka over Murkowski.

But Murkowski is still competitive. She has survived challenges from the right before: In 2010, she lost a primary and then won a general election vote to retain her seat. She is raising a lot of money and the Senate Republicans in Washington are supporting her. (It’s one of many fascinating splits this election season between the Republican establishment and the base.)

But a big reason Murkowski might win ties into the third and final reason on our list that Alaska is so competitive.

3. Alaskans will rank their picks on their ballots

In 2020, Alaskans approved combining two new ways to vote, bringing a major shift that proponents of democratic reform celebrated as a way to give more moderate candidates a chance to win.

First, instead of a Republican primary and a Democratic primary, candidates will run in a multiparty primary. The first four voters go to the general election, regardless of party.

Second, in the general election, Alaskans will rank their top four picks. (There is also a fifth space for written candidates.) If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the last candidate is eliminated and their votes are distributed to those whom their supporters have ranked as their second choice. And so on until a candidate has a winner.

It’s called preferential voting, and some democracy reform experts hope it can weed out some of the extreme partisanship of politics. (Although one of the biggest knocks against the method is that it is confusing.)

Maine was the first to adopt preferential voting statewide. It has spread to more than a dozen cities, including in the race for mayor of New York. Proponents say it rewards candidates who appeal to a diverse group of voters: During the launch of choice voting in Maine, for example, several 2018 gubernatorial candidates reached out to supporters of their opponents , asking to be ranked as their second choice.

“Ranking-choice voting is great for finding the majority-favorite winner,” Deb Otis, a researcher with the nonpartisan group FairVote, which advocates ranking-choice voting, told Harry Stevens of the Post the year last.

In Alaska, that could weaken far-right candidates like Palin, who likely has a dedicated but narrow base. And that could bolster more moderate candidates, like Murkowski, who appealed to independent voters and some Democratic voters.

Murkowski, in particular, will benefit from big electoral changes in Alaska. She could get fewer votes than her Trump-backed opponent Tshibaka without losing the primary. She would likely be in the top four for the general election, in which case she could leverage her broader appeal in Alaska to persuade more people to rank her higher, even if she isn’t their first choice.


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