Tara Sweeney ends campaign for U.S. House, opening spot for Libertarian on November ballot

Tara Sweeney waves from the corner of Northern Lights Boulevard and the Seward Highway on primary Election Day, Aug. 16. (Mizelle Mayo/ Alaska Public Media)

Moderate Republican candidate Tara Sweeney is bowing out of the Congressional race.

Sweeney, a former assistant secretary of Interior in the Trump administration, had substantial financial support from Alaska Native corporations and their affiliates. But she said she doesn’t think she can win.

“Looking at the outcome of the Regular Primary election, I don’t see a path to victory, nor to raise the resources needed to be successful this November,” Sweeney said in a news release emailed Tuesday afternoon.

She did not endorse another candidate.

Sweeney finished fourth in the Aug. 16 primary for the next full term in the U.S. House, but well behind the frontrunners, Democrat Mary Peltola, Republican Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III, also a Republican. She captured less than 4% of the primary vote. Still, it was enough to earn her a spot on the November ballot. (In Alaska’s new election system, the top four vote-getters advance, regardless of party.)

Her departure has echos of the special election to fill the current vacancy. That election unexpectedly turned into a three-way race when candidate Al Gross dropped out.

In that case, the Division of Elections ruled that Sweeney, who finished fifth in the special primary, could not move up to the special general ballot because Gross withdrew within 64 days of the next election.

But Sweeney’s withdrawal comes 77 days before the next election.

“If a candidate who advances out of the primary withdraws 64 or more days before the general election, the fifth place candidate will advance instead,” a Division of Elections spokeswoman said by email.

That suggests Libertarian Chris Bye may have a spot on the November ballot. Bye finished fifth in the Aug. 16 primary with less than 1% of votes, according to preliminary results. Behind him is another Libertarian, J.R. Myers.

The special general for the partial U.S. House term was also on Aug. 16 — the same day as the regular primary, causing widespread confusion about two races for the same seat on the same ballot.

The winner of the partial term will be determined Aug. 31, after the deadline for mailed ballots to arrive. That’s when the Division of Elections will determine who finish third and tabulate second-choice ballots that went to that candidate.

For more elections coverage visit alaskapublic.org/elections.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.