6 min read

An upset in Alaska

Wake Up To Politics: Democratic upset in Alaska
An upset in Alaska

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Thursday, September 1, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 68 days away. Election Day 2024 is 796 days away.

Happy September! Per presidential proclamations, it is National Recovery Month, National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, National Preparedness Month, National Wilderness Month, National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and National Sickle Cell Awareness Month.

It also means we are nearing the unofficial Labor Day kickoff of election season. Hey, speaking of elections...

Democrat Mary Peltola defeats Palin comeback bid in Alaska

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is best remembered in American politics for her failed 2008 bid for vice president, her impression by Tina Fey, and her role in sending the Republican Party down the bombastic, right-wing path that eventually led to Donald Trump.

Now she is also responsible for Alaska sending its first Democrat to the U.S. House in almost 50 years.

In an upset win, Democrat Mary Peltola has been declared the victor over Palin in a special election for Alaska’s sole seat in the House.

The race was held earlier this month, but the final results were announced on Wednesday. The contest was Alaska’s first using ranked-choice voting, a system which allows voters to rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference.

Under the system, if no candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least first-choice votes is eliminated and their voters’ support is transferred to whichever candidate they ranked second. This process continues until someone cobbles together a majority.

A campaign sign for Democrat Mary Peltola. (Twitter)

Here’s how it worked in Alaska: After a non-partisan primary in June, three candidates advanced to the ranked-choice general election: Peltola, Palin, and Nick Begich III. (A fourth candidate, Independent Al Gross, dropped out between the primary and the general.)

Begich was eliminated first, but even though he was a Republican, 29% of his voters ranked Peltola second over Palin — catapulting the Democrat to victory. Notably, 21% of Begich’s voters didn’t rank anyone second, which was also critical to the outcome.

In the final tally combining first-and second-choice ballots, Peltola received 51.47% of the vote to Palin’s 48.53%.

Peltola’s win isn’t only interesting for its politics, it’s also historic. A member of the Yup’ik tribe, the former state legislator will be the first Alaska Native to serve in the U.S. Congress.

She is also Alaska’s first female House member and the state’s first Democratic House member since 1973.

How much does Peltola’s victory tell us about the national political environment? It’s hard to know for sure. A lot of the race likely came down to factors unique to Alaska, including Palin’s complicated history in the state.

After her 2008 bid for the vice presidency, Palin quit the Alaskan governorship in 2010 to pursue her national platform — a decision that many Alaskan never forget and contributed to her low approval ratings at when she jumped in the House race.

Ranked-choice voting (which is only used by one other state, Maine, on the congressional level) also likely played a role, allowing moderate Begich voters to rally around Peltola over the right-wing, Trump-endorsed Palin.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. (Gage Skidmore)

“Mary Peltola ran an incredibly smart campaign,” Zack Brown, the former top spokesman to the late Alaska Rep. Don Young, whose death triggered the special election, told Wake Up To Politics.

“She didn’t get caught in the traditional party messaging,” Brown added, noting Peltola’s unorthodox Democratic credentials like her membership in the NRA.

Still, the race is also not an outlier. In fact, it’s the second straight Democratic victory in a closely fought House special election, after the party’s recent win in a competitive New York district.

In the five House special elections since the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion, Democrats have outperformed President Biden’s 2020 margin in their districts by an average of six percentage points, according to Daily Kos Elections.

Combined with President Biden’s approval ratings inching up, and gas prices inching down, these results offer yet another metric giving Democrats renewed hope about their chances in November.

However, Peltola’s time in Washington could still be brief. Her victory only entitles her to serve out Young’s unfinished term, which is set to end in January.

The congresswoman-elect faces a rematch with Palin and Begich in November, for a race to decide who will hold the seat for the next two years. That contest will also be held using ranked-choice voting.

More news you should know

Trump investigations. Former President Donald Trump’sattorneys will make their first court appearance today in the case involving Trump’s handling of official documents. They will press a federal judge to appoint a special master to review the documents seized during the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid for any claims of executive or attorney-client privilege.

2022 elections. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a leading elections forecaster, upgraded the chances of Democrats winning two key Senate races (Arizona and Pennsylvania), shifting both from “Toss Up” to “Lean Democratic.” Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal poll out this morning showed Democrats gaining 8% to claim an edge on the generic ballot.

  • Also: Florida Rep. Charlie Crist, the state’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, resigned from his House seat to focus on his race against Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The current Sabato’s Crystal Ball ratings for the 2022 Senate map. (Sabato’s Crystal Ball)

Covid. The FDA authorized new Covid booster shots to specifically target the Omicron subvariants, the first update to the coronavirus vaccines since they were unveiled in 2020. The CDC is expected to offer its approval today, allowing the shots to begin rolling out next week.

Education. Resultsfrom a test known as “the nation’s report card” are out this morning, offering the most detailed glimpse at how student achievement plummeted during the pandemic. Math scores dropped seven points in the last two years, the first-ever decline since the test began in the 1970s; reading scores slipped five points, their largest drop in 30 years.

Global. The UN released a 48-page reporton China’s brutal treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang region, including mass detention camps “marked by patterns of torture.” The report concluded that China’s actions “may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”

Today at a glance

All times Eastern.

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (9 am). This evening, he will travel to Philadelphia, where he will deliver a primetime speech on “the continued battle for the soul of the nation” (8 pm) outside Independence Hall. Watch Biden’s speech

  • After the speech, Biden will return to Washington.

Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Durham, North Carolina this afternoon. While there, she will tour the Durham Center for Senior Life (2 pm), deliver remarks on the Inflation Reduction Act (2:50 pm), and deliver remarks at a Democratic fundraiser (6:05 pm).

  • After the event, Harris will return to Washington.

First Lady Jill Biden will deliver remarks at a White House event launching the Apprenticeship Ambassador Initiative, which is aimed at increasing and diversifying registered apprenticeships (2pm).

  • Later, she will deliver pre-recorded remarks at a back-to-school town hall for teachers hosted by the White House and two teachers’ unions (6:30 pm) and attend her husband’s speech in Philadelphia (8 pm). Watch the town hall

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing (2 pm).

The Senate is on recess until September 6.

The House is on recess until September 13.

The Supreme Court is on recess until October 3.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon will hold a hearing (1 pm) to consider arguments from former President Donald Trump’s attorneys and Justice Department prosecutors on Trump’s request for a special master to be named in the documents handling case.

Before I go...

☕ Here’s some good news (at least for tea drinkers): A new study followed nearly half a million tea drinkers in the United Kingdom.

It found that two or more cups of tea a day led to modest health benefits: a 9% to 13% lower risk of death from any cause vs. non-tea drinkers.

Read more from the Associated Press.

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe