Sarah Palin is reemerging on the national political scene after she advanced with the most votes in the primary for the special election to fill Alaska’s only seat in the House of Representatives. Palin will contest the special election with three other candidates vying to serve the remainder of Don Young’s term, who died in March after 49 years in the House.
The Alaskan has not held political office since Palin took the national stage as Senator John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election.
Palin received 30 percent of the votes, 10 percent more than her next competitor, and she received an important endorsement from Donald Trump. In many ways, Palin’s ‘maverick’ political stylings in the 2008 election set the stage for Trump eight years later.
Notably, the election was conducted completely by mail, and with about 25 percent of the vote left to count a clear top tier has emerged. Joining Palin will be Republican Nick Begich who received about 19 percent of the vote, and independent Al Gross with 12.5 percent.
The fourth and final spot will likely go to Democrat Mary Peltola, who received 7.5 percent. A democratic socialist named Santa Claus is the next closest contender with 4.5 percent of the vote.
Much like other primary contests across the nation, the Alaska primary and the special election will have competing factions of the Republican Party vying for political office.
Palin represents the Trump wing of the party with her website highlighting key conservative talking points against abortion, for gun control, and specific to Alaska, drilling for oil.
Palin’s endorsements read like a who’s who in the Trump world of GOP politics: Turning Point USA, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Sheriff David Clarke, Donald Trump Jr., in addition to Trump himself.
In 2008, Palin’s "populist" brand of politics was more novel, but now she falls squarely in line with the majority of Republicans.
The second-highest vote-getter, Nick Begich III, represents the other side of the battle within the Republican Party. Begich III is the grandson of former Democratic Representative, Nick Begich, who died in a plane crash in 1972.
Begich III worked on Young’s 2020 reelection campaign and served on the Alaska Republican Party's finance committee. But Begich III entered the race before Young died and had become critical of his spending.
The more traditional Republican is running as a fiscal conservative and touts his collaboration with the conservative Club for Growth. The Club for Growth is a conservative political organization that promotes cutting income taxes and removing the estate tax, among other right-wing positions.
The Club for Growth backed Trump in 2020 and were big backers of candidates who supported overturning the 2020 election results. It backed competitors to Trump-endorsed candidates in key Senate primaries in Ohio and Pennsylvania, however. Trump’s candidates won, but he said of the club, “it’s their right to do it, but it’s a rather hostile act. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Rather than a complete break from Trump’s brand of politics, candidates like Begich III show that powerful organizations like Club for Growth are less interested in dismantling Trump’s political movement, than vying to take it over for their own political ends.
Palin enjoys the highest name recognition and will be the favorite heading into the August 16 general election.
In a new twist in Alaskan elections, the general election uses ranked-choice voting. Alaskan voters will have the option to vote for their top four choices, and if no single candidate gets 50 percent of the vote, a second round is held by eliminating the lowest candidates’ votes and adding those voters’ second choice to the voter’s tally. The counting ends when a candidate receives a majority of votes.
This election structure may harm Palin’s chances. A May poll showed that 59 percent of likely special election voters have a negative view of the former Governor. Yet she clearly has a dedicated base that may turn out for her.