Alaska is a Republican state. Democratic candidates in presidential elections have not won there for more than half a century. And half a century is what Republican Don Young had been in the House of Representatives in the only seat that corresponds to the largest territory in the United States when he died, this past March, at the age of 88. The special election to replace him was on August 16, but until this Wednesday the result has not been known: Republican Sarah Palin, despite Trump’s support (or because of it), has been defeated by Democrat Mary Peltola, the first descendant of Alaskan aborigines who will go to Congress .
Until today, the last time a Democrat had won the elections to the House of Representatives in Alaska was in 1972. Nick Begich did it after his death. The flight in which he was traveling from Anchorage to Juneau was lost forever on October 16 of that year, probably submerged in the waters of the Gulf of Alaska, but his death was not legally declared until December 29, after his posthumous victory. in November.
In another somewhat unusual turn of events, it can be said that it has now been his grandson, Republican Nick Begich III, who has given the Democrats a new victory. Or at least, his voters. With the peculiar preferential voting system that Alaska has launched, Voters arranged candidates on their ballot in order of preference. If no one got more than 50% of the votes, as has happened, the third is eliminated and the second option of those who voted for him is computed, in a kind of automatic second round. Begich III lived up to his name and came third. And despite the fact that his voters were Republicans, about half of them preferred the Democratic candidate as their second choice over Sarah Palin.
Mary Peltola could not have had a better birthday present. She turned 49 this Wednesday and she has been elected as the first woman to represent Alaska in the House of Representatives. She is also the first of Alaskan Native descent to do so. Faced with the division of the Republican vote between Palin and Begich III, Peltola had already prevailed in the first lap, with about 40% of the votes, compared to 31% for Palin, before counting the second votes for Begich III, which finally gave her victory, pending official certification.
Sarah Palin had criticized this voting system a few weeks ago in Dallas (Texas): “In Alaska we have this bizarre system that has been adopted recently, in order of preference, in which it doesn’t matter if you get the most votes. It actually matters if you have more votes in second and third place, based on the ranking of voters. It’s weird, it’s convoluted, it’s complicated and it’s voter suppression,” she said at the Conservative conference at which Trump was the great protagonist.
an alaska native
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Originally from a Yupik, Alaskan Native village, Peltola is an extremely kind, educated and correct candidate, who aroused sympathy as a state congresswoman and has now campaigned positively while her two Republican rivals attacked each other.
In this electoral system, candidates who provoke rejection are harmed and she even has the sympathy of Palin herself. The two were pregnant at the same time being a governor and the other state congresswoman and maintain a cordial relationship. Peltola’s family and the deceased congressman she is replacing, Don Young, were also friends with each other. Peltola came to spend Thanksgiving at Young’s home in Washington.
During his time as a congressman, he tried to weave complicities across partisan divides to advocate for rural and remote Alaskan communities. Peltola successfully pushed through laws related to school safety, fishing, inhalant abuse, and judicial districts. The defense of fishing and natural resources and the right to abortion have been axes of his campaign.
After leaving the State Congress, she has worked for native and rural communities, has been a council member, a tribal judge and has participated in lobby groups and has been a great defender of salmon fishing in her State. Peltola is married for the third time to Gene Peltola, director of the Alaskan branch of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. She is the mother of four children, two with each of her first two husbands, and the grandmother of two grandchildren.
For Sarah Palin it is a tough defeat. She swept the gubernatorial elections in Alaska and that earned her the opportunity to accompany John McCain in the 2008 presidential election as a vice-presidential candidate. A disastrous campaign riddled with errors led to her being ridiculed to the extreme, sometimes unfairly. After the defeat of McCain and Palin against Barack Obama and Joe Biden, she also resigned as governor, dedicated herself to television and supported Donald Trump in his race for the presidency. The former president has returned her favor and supported her in the race for the Alaskan seat, but Palin is seen as a divisive figure who draws opposition from many voters.
For the former president, Palin’s defeat is also his defeat. Although local and candidate peculiarities make it difficult to extrapolate, it is another sign of hope for Democrats, who believe the tide has turned and they are increasingly optimistic a little more than two months before legislative elections that they feared would be a disaster for them.
In any case, the elections whose scrutiny has been known this Wednesday are to occupy the seat only from September to December. The same candidates are classified for the legislative elections on November 8. Whoever wins them will hold office for the next two years.