Between 2016 and 2022, Alaska conservatives lost all hope in U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. After her successful write-in campaign against Republican Joe Miller in the 2010 general election, when she won reelection with just 39.5% of the vote, Murkowski angered her base.
The Alaska Republican Party gave her a pass in 2016, and voters let her through with just 44.4% of the vote.
Murkowski’s surrogates, realizing the peril, remade the Alaska election system to eliminate the party-specific primary ballot because Murkowski could not win a GOP primary again. In 2020, with assistance from national election reform groups, voters agreed to a “jungle primary” and “ranked choice” general election system. They had been sold on the “eliminate dark money” portion of the ballot measure that brought in ranked choice voting.
This means on Aug. 16, Murkowski will not face her party’s scorn. She’ll run against 18 others in an open primary, where all candidates compete on the same ballot. Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a born-and-raised Alaskan, is the biggest threat to Murkowski and is endorsed by the Alaska Republican Party.
The top four proceed to the November general election, which is where the ranking takes place.
Ranked choice voting is complicated, relies on machine counting with no way to hand audit and is a voting scheme that’s difficult to understand or explain.
Alaskans will, however, get to practice their ranked choice voting skills on Aug. 16 on the reverse side of the primary ballot. That’s because Congressman Don Young’s passing left a vacancy that must be filled until the new congressional representative is elected.
Four congressional candidates were picked as the favorites by voters in a special primary in June. The special general takes place at the same time as the regular primary, Aug. 16.
One of the four dropped out, leaving three for the ranked choice ballot: Sarah Palin and Nick Begich are the Republicans, and Mary Peltola is the Democrat.
Palin is the most famous Alaskan in the state’s history. She’s trying to make a political comeback after years of being a media commentator, reality TV show fixture and contestant on “The Masked Singer,” where she rapped Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
Begich is the grandson of Congressman Nick Begich, who died in a plane crash while in office in 1972, opening the way for Don Young to be Alaska’s lone representative for 49 years.
Begich is also the nephew of former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, and State Sen. Tom Begich, both Democrats. Nick has to overcome his own name in order to succeed in a state where Donald Trump won with nearly 53% of the vote in 2020.
While Palin has Trump’s endorsement, Begich has the support of more than 50 elected Republicans in Alaska, including many mayors and legislators. Palin has almost no support from Republican elected leaders in Alaska.
Begich has something else: Americans for Prosperity Alaska supports him and has a ground game. AFP has volunteers knocking on tens of thousands of doors to convince conservatives to take a look at this Begich, who supported Trump and even donated to his campaign in 2020.
AFP backed now-Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia last year with a similar ground game, with great success.
With ranked choice voting, Begich and Palin may find their supporters unwilling to rank the other Republican in the #2 spot.
Palin’s voters are especially recalcitrant to vote for anyone else. That could throw the race to Democrat Peltola and have Alaskans electing a Democrat to the House for the first time in 49 years.
Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska, a conservative news and commentary website in Alaska. She is the former editor of the Juneau Empire and former editorial page editor of the Augusta Chronicle.
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