Sarah Palin tried to make a political comeback, of sorts, and has lost a special congressional election in Alaska where she once served as governor. Even more relevant, she lost in a district that was Republican-held for nearly five decades.
The winner, Democrat Mary Peltola, will be the first Alaskan Native to serve as a lawmaker in Congress for the state. The race was to fill a vacancy left after the former office holder died. The seat, however, will be up for grabs again in November. Peltola, who is Yup’ik and turned 49 on Wednesday, will serve the remaining months of the late Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young’s term. Young held the seat for 49 years before his death in March.
“I don’t think there will be another birthday like today,” Peltola said. “Really I’m just so grateful to Alaskans and all the Alaskans who put their faith in me to fill out the remainder of Congressman Young’s term,” she said in an interview. “My desire is to follow in Congressman Young’s legacy of representing all Alaskans, and I’m just looking forward to getting to work.”
Peltola’s victory is an unanticipated result in a midterm election cycle that is of paramount importance, not only in itself—as a single event–but as a harbinger of the possible outcome in the 2022 general election and even more, in the 2024 presidential election, as speculation about Donald Trump’s chances rev up. At this point, the speculation and what passes for analysis by pundits from both political parties, amounts to little more than reading tea leaves.
Peltola will be the first Democrat to hold the seat since the late U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, who was seeking reelection in 1972 when his plane disappeared. Begich was later declared dead and Young in 1973 was elected to the seat.
Peltola ran as a coalition builder while her two Republican opponents — Palin and Begich’s grandson, also named Nick Begich — went hard each other. All three – Peltola, Palin and Begich – are candidates in the November general election, seeking a two-year term that would start in January.
Alaska Democratic Party leaders cheered Peltola’s win. “Alaskans have made clear they want a rational, steadfast, honest and caring voice speaking for them in Washington D.C., not opportunists and extremists associated with the Alaska Republican Party,” state Democratic party chair Michael Wenstrup said in a statement.
Ms. Palin served as the vice-presidential running mate to Arizona Senator John McCain in 2008, and many disappointed Republicans blamed his choice of running mate for the loss. Criticized for her lack of knowledge and experience, she became an object of ridicule in the media, with whom she had a very contentious relationship. Simultaneously, she was highly popular among her supporters as “Mama Grizzly”, a woman politician who fought for the rights of women from a conservative stance. “You don’t want to mess with a “Mama Grizzly,” she frequently reminded her opponents.
Her brand of combative conservatism and anti-establishment appeal led many to consider her as the political precursor to Donald Trump. She went on to star on reality TV shows, and launched a high-profile libel lawsuit against the New York Times, which she lost earlier this year.
Peltola, a former state lawmaker who most recently worked for a commission whose goal is to rebuild salmon resources on the Kuskokwim River, cast herself as a “regular” Alaskan. “I’m not a millionaire. I’m not an international celebrity,” she said, alluding to her highly visible opponent. Peltola praised the new system of ranked voting hoped it would allow more moderate candidates to be elected.
In the attempt to predict the outcome of the midterm elections, it is worth noting that during the campaign, Peltola emphasized her support of abortion rights, a highly relevant issue in the wake of the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade and also said she wanted to elevate issues of ocean productivity and food security, two issues that are dear to Liberals and Democrats and may indeed play a prominent role in the 2022 and 2024 elections.
In Alaska, voters last backed a Democrat for president in 1964. And the last Democratic member of Alaska’s congressional delegation was Mark Begich, Nick Begich’s uncle, who served one term in the U.S. Senate and lost his 2014 reelection bid. In the light of these statistics, Sarah Palin’s loss is even more significant.
Discussion about this post