Lisa Murkowski and Mary Peltola are winning races in Alaska, defeating Trump-backed opponents
At a victory party at a brewery in downtown Anchorage on Wednesday night, Peltola told reporters that Alaskans gave her a “two-year contract.”
“And I’ll be happy to work for the Alaskans again, as long as they’ll have me,” she said. Her victory, she added, shows that Alaskans “wholeheartedly embrace nonpartisanship and working together.”
In the governor’s race, Republican Mike Dunleavy won re-election with over 50 percent of the vote, avoiding the ranking process.
Peltola and Murkowski crossed party lines to support each other before the election, forming an alliance rooted in the similar space they occupy on the political spectrum. Their victories cap an election season in which voters across the country have shown preference for incumbents in battleground 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 US Senate,” Murkowski said in a statement Wednesday night. “I look forward to continuing the important work ahead.”
The outcome marked another blow to Trump in this year’s midterm elections. Many candidates were associated with the former president and his polarizing positions fell in defeat in the contests of the battlefield, and his overall record was mixed in the competitive races he supported. That list includes former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, who challenged Peltola with Trump’s support, and Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former state and federal official who ran against Murkowski with the former president’s support.
After the final round of ranked-choice voting, Murkowski had 53.7 percent of the vote to Tshibaka’s 46.3 percent. In the race for the House of Representatives, Peltola had 55 percent of the vote and Palin 45 percent.
Peltola ran a locally focused campaign with traditional and unconventional Democratic platforms – she said her support for abortion rights and “pro-fish” viewsalong with its support of a new oil project in Alaska and a large collection of weapons 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 — the one left vacant by the sudden death of longtime Republican Rep. Don Young. Peltola also beat Palin in that race, becoming the first member of the Congress of Alaska Natives and the first woman in her state to hold the seat.
Peltola is the first Democrat elected to Congress in Alaska since 2008, when Mark Begich unseated Republican Sen. Ted Stevens just months after Stevens the accused for allegedly making false statements regarding his financial disclosures.
Murkowski, meanwhile, will soon begin serving her fourth six-year term in the Senate, after being appointed to the House in 2002 by her father, then-Governor-elect Frank Murkowski. Her campaign highlighted her work to bring infrastructure money to Alaska, her support of the state’s oil and fishing industries, and her close relationship with Alaska Native voters.
Trump has long promised to oust the senator, prediction in 2018 that she will “never recover” politically from voting against one of his Supreme Court nominees, Brett M. Kavanaugh. Tshibaka joined Trump at a rally held at the Anchorage Arena in July.
Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, also appeared with Trump in July. She lost both the special and general elections after splitting the conservative vote with Nick Begich III, a Republican from a prominent Alaskan Democratic family. (Begich is the nephew of Mark Begich and grandson of Nick Begich Sr., who held the seat of the U.S. Congress in Alaska before the plane carrying him across the state disappeared in 1972.)
Jim Lottsfeldt, a centrist political consultant who has worked with pro-Murkovski and pro-Peltola super PACs, said he’s not sure Trump’s endorsement has 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 that we’ve earned by 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 the 2020 citizens’ initiative partially funded and led by Murkowski allies. The system remade primary elections by eliminating partisan races and advancing the top four vote-getters from one open ballot to the general election.
In general elections, 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 vote total is eliminated, and the votes of that candidate’s supporters roll over to their next election. The process is repeated until two candidates remain and a winner is declared.
A number of Alaska conservatives, led by Palin, attacked the new system as complicated and untrustworthy, even though there was no evidence of any technical problems or foul play. 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 could face an uphill battle. One avenue for critics is repeal by the Alaska Legislature — where many 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 abolish the system through a citizens’ initiative. But polls released by supporters after the August primary election showed more than 60 percent of Alaskans approve.
Even if the new electoral system remains intact, Peltola’s allies expect her to face serious Republican challenges when her term ends in two years.
One of Peltola’s dynamic boosts this year has been a national Democratic network that helped her raise more than $5.5 million by mid-October — more than triple the $1.7 million and $1.6 million raised by Palin and Begich respectively. from campaign contributions.
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