Peltola, Palin lead in the special election. Winner to be decided at RCV count on Aug. 31

Mary Peltola (campaign) and Sarah Palin (photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC).

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With 80% of precincts reporting, Democratic candidate Mary Peltola and former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin hold the first- and second-place spots in the special election to fill the remainder of the late U.S. Rep. Don Young’s term in Congress. That leaves Alaska Republican Party-endorsed candidate Nick Begich, who invested heavily in his own race, on the outside looking in and on the verge of being eliminated once the state tabulates the ranked-choice votes later this month.

As it stands, it’s:

  • Mary Peltola (D) — 56,892 (38.38%)
  • Sarah Palin (R) — 48,304 (32.59%)
  • Nick Begich (R) — 43,038 (29.03%)
  • Write-in — 2,150 (1.45%)

Peltola’s lead over Palin grew throughout the night and is likely to continue to grow as it’s mostly precincts from rural and progressive-leaning Anchorage districts that are still out. The more distance she can put between herself and Palin the better because, of course, this is Alaska’s first-ever election under the new ranked-choice voting system. Without a candidate crossing the 50%+1 threshold, the second-place votes of Begich and write-in voters will decide in the race.

[Latest election results can be found here.]

Now, while it may be inviting to expect Begich voters will neatly align between the fellow Republican candidate, it’s critical to keep in mind that that fellow Republican candidate is the Trump-aligned Sarah Palin.

Under a normal race, neatly coalescing behind a candidate is far from a given in ranked-choice voting and this race is far from normal. Again, Sarah Palin. There’s certainly some number of Begich voters who ranked Peltola second, but probably not enough to put Peltola above the 50% mark. Instead, it’s probably the not-insignificant chunk of Begich voters who ranked no one that will be the decider in this race. After all, all the Alaska Republican Party’s messaging was more about leaving Peltola blank than it was about unity between Palin and Begich.

Basically put, any Begich and write-in voter who did anything other than ranking Palin with their subsequent choices will help Peltola’s chances of winning the race.

That said, we’re really into the waiting and speculation phase of the election until the Division of Elections cracks open the ballots and starts the tabulation process of ranked choice voting, which is set to happen on Aug. 31 (by the way, this is a product of the 15-day waiting period for overseas military ballots and not because of Ballot Measure 2, just so we’re being clear).

Interestingly, it was Palin who complained that ranked-choice voting will magically change who’s winning the race. We’d go to bed with one winner, she argued, and wake up to another thanks to ranked-choice voting. Now she’s banking on the results “magically” changing if she wants to win.

Stay tuned.

U.S. House full term

Tuesday’s election also featured the regular primary for the full term in the U.S. House.

It looks like the four-way general election race will be between Peltola (35.5%), Palin (31.4%), Begich (26.92%) and Republican candidate Tara Sweeney (3.57%). Sweeney finished fifth in the special primary election and would have advanced to the special general if independent candidate Al Gross had withdrawn earlier. Her success in the regular primary isn’t all that surprising given the clearing of the decks that occurred after the special election. There simply weren’t a lot of serious alternatives still in the race and no other candidate crossed 1% of the vote.

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