Lisa Murkowski and Mary Peltola win Alaska races, defeating Trump-backed opponents

Written by

Comment

Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola became the first Alaska Native to win a full term in Congress on Wednesday, securing re-election along with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who both defeated challengers endorsed by former President Donald Trump after state officials ended a last voting round counter.

Peltola, who made history with his special election victory in August, and Murkowski, a senator for two decades, were leading according to earlier vote counts. But centrist lawmakers’ victories weren’t achieved until Wednesday, when the Alaska Division of Elections redistributed votes under the state’s new ranked-choice system.

At a victory party at a brewery in downtown Anchorage Wednesday night, Peltola told reporters that the people of Alaska have given her a “two-year contract.”

“And I’ll be happy to work for Alaskans again as long as they want me,” she said. Her victory, she added, shows that Alaskans “wholeheartedly embrace nonpartisanship and cooperation.”

In the race for governor, Republican Mike Dunleavy won re-election with over 50 percent of the vote, avoiding the ranked-choice process.

Peltola and Murkowski had crossed party lines to support each other ahead of the election and form an alliance rooted in the corresponding space they occupy on the political spectrum. Their victories cap an election season in which voters across the country tended to show a preference for incumbents in contested races.

“I am honored that Alaskans — of all regions, backgrounds and party affiliations — have once again placed their trust in me to continue working with them and on their behalf in the United States Senate,” Murkowski said in a statement Wednesday night . “I look forward to continuing the important work ahead of us.”

The result marked another blow to Trump in this year’s midterm elections. Many candidates were associated with the former president and his polarizing positions fell into defeat in battleground contests, and his overall record was mixed in competitive races where he cleared. The list includes former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, who challenged Peltola with Trump’s endorsement, and Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former state and federal official who ran against Murkowski with the former president’s endorsement.

After the final round of ranked choice, Murkowski had 53.7 percent of the vote to Tshibaka’s 46.3 percent. In the House race, Peltola had 55 percent of the vote to Palin’s 45 percent.

Peltola ran a locally focused campaign with both traditional and unconventional Democratic platform planks—she touted her support for abortion rights and “pro-fish” viewsalong with her approval of a new Alaska oil project and large weapon collection which she and her family maintain.

Peltola’s victory secures her first full two-year term on Capitol Hill and follows her victory in August to temporarily fill her state’s only seat in the U.S. House — one vacated by longtime Republican Rep. The sudden death of Don Young. Peltola also beat Palin in that race, be the first Alaska Native member of Congress and her state’s first woman to fill the seat.

Peltola is the first Democrat elected to Congress in Alaska since 2008, when Mark Begich unseated Republican Sen. Ted Stevens just a few months after Stevens was ousted. accused for allegedly making false statements in connection with his financial information.

Murkowski, meanwhile, will soon begin serving her fourth six-year term in the Senate, following her appointment to the chamber in 2002 by her father, then-Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski. Her campaign highlighted her work to bring infrastructure money to Alaska, her support for the state’s oil and fishing industries, and her close relationship with Alaska Native constituencies.

Trump had long promised to impeach the senator, predict in 2018 that she will “never recover” politically for voting against one of his Supreme Court nominees, Brett M. Kavanaugh. Tshibaka joined Trump at a rally in an Anchorage arena in July.

Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, also appeared with Trump in July. She lost both the special election and the general election after splitting the conservative vote with Nick Begich III, a Republican from a prominent Alaska Democratic family. (Begich is a nephew of Mark Begich and a grandson of Nick Begich Sr., who held Alaska’s U.S. House seat before a plane carrying him across the state disappeared in 1972.)

Jim Lottsfeldt, a centrist political consultant who worked with pro-Murkowski and pro-Peltola super PACs, said he’s not sure Trump’s support offered Palin and Tshibaka much help. Alaska, he said, is small enough that many people who follow politics judge candidates based on personal interactions.

“We all have these opinions we got from looking someone in the eye,” Lottsfeldt said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Donald Trump won’t tell me anything about Sarah Palin that I don’t already know.”

This year’s election was Alaska’s first under the state’s new voting framework, which residents narrowly approved in a 2020 citizen initiative that was partially funded and driven by Murkowski allies. The system overhauled the primaries by eliminating partisan races and advancing the top four vote-getters from a single open ballot to the general election.

In the general election, voters are allowed to rank candidates based on their preferences. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and the votes of that candidate’s supporters are redistributed for their next election. The process is repeated until two candidates remain and a winner can be chosen.

A number of conservative Alaska conservatives, led by Palin, have attacked the new system as complicated and untrustworthy, even though there have been no signs of technical problems or glitches. At an event last week, the former governor was the first person to sign a new petition to get rid of the system.

The repeal campaign may face an uphill battle. One avenue for critics is a repeal of the Alaska Legislature — where a number of seats will now be filled by candidates who won races this year, at least in part because of the new voting process.

Residents could also repeal the system through a citizens’ initiative. But polls released by supporters after the August primary showed more than 60 percent of Alaskans approve.

Although the new electoral system remains intact, Peltola’s allies expect her to face serious challenges from Republicans when her term expires in two years.

A dynamic boost for Peltola this year was a national Democratic network that helped her raise more than $5.5 million through mid-October — more than triple the $1.7 million and $1.6 million that Palin and Begich, respectively, raised in campaign contributions.

About the author

Leave a Comment