Mary Peltola becomes first Alaska Native elected to Congress

a man and woman hug
Mary Peltola hugs her husband, Gene “Buzzy” Peltola, after learning Wednesday she had won Alaska’s special U.S. House race. Wednesday was also Peltola’s 49th birthday. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Democrat Mary Peltola has won election to the U.S. House, beating Republican Sarah Palin to fill the remainder of the late Congressman Don Young’s term in office.

“I feel like I need to catch my breath for a minute,” Peltola said, speaking to supporters at an office in downtown Anchorage Wednesday after the results were tallied.

Peltola, who surpassed Palin by three percentage points, will be the first Alaska Native person to serve in Congress. 

“I will have that distinction,” said Peltola. “But I think what’s most important is that I’m Alaskan and being sent to represent all Alaskans.”

Peltola will also be the first woman to fill Alaska’s sole U.S. House seat.

a man and woman look at a laptop on a table while a group of people with headphones and microphones crowd around them
Mary Peltola and her campaign staff watch votes get tallied on Wednesday in downtown Anchorage as reporters and photographers look on. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

The unofficial results of Alaska’s first ranked choice election were announced Wednesday afternoon on a livestream from the Division of Elections office in Juneau. 

Peltola, who is Yup’ik and represented Bethel in the state House for a decade, was ahead of former Gov. Palin by almost 9 percentage points when only first-choice ballots were counted.

Republican candidate Nick Begich III finished third and was eliminated on Wednesday as the ranked choice tabulation began. Just over half of his voters had marked Palin as their second choice, 29% of them selected Peltola and 21% were considered “exhausted.” That means the voter either did not mark a second-choice candidate or ranked a write-in candidate second and ranked no third candidate.

Peltola won with 51.5% of the vote, to Palin’s 48.5%.

At her campaign headquarters in Anchorage on Wednesday, Palin said she felt “more fired up than ever.”

“We’ve only just begun to fight for Alaska I feel like,” she said. “This is just, you know, the call to arms, you guys.”

a woman in glasses walks into a room with balloons
Sarah Palin at her Anchorage campaign headquarters on Wednesday. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media)

In a speech to supporters, Palin also questioned election integrity and again criticized the state’s new ranked choice voting system. She later told reporters she “does not anticipate” challenging the results of the election in court.

Palin and Peltola have been friends since their days in Juneau, when Palin was governor and Peltola was a legislator. Despite the loss, Palin had only good things to say about her opponent.

“She’s a beautiful soul. She’s a great mother, has a heart for Alaska,” said Palin. “We just represent very, very polarizing views.”

a woman stands in front of a crowd, with a "Sarah for Alaska" sign in the background
Sarah Palin addresses her supporters at her campaign headquarters. (Valerie Kern/Alaska Public Media)

The vote will be certified on Friday. Peltola will likely be sworn in the week of Sept. 12, when the House reconvenes after its summer recess. The Speaker of the House could also call a special session just to swear Peltola in early.

Peltola will be in office until at least January, when the term ends. Meanwhile, she, Palin and Begich are campaigning for the next full term, which will be on the November ballot.

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Alaska Public Media reporter Chris Klint contributed to this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 21% of voters who chose Nick Begich III as their No. 1 candidate did not choose a second-choice candidate. In fact, those voters either did not mark a second-choice candidate or ranked a write-in candidate second and ranked no third candidate.

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