Vibe-check: U.S. House candidates’ campaign headquarters

Sarah Palin headquarters
U.S. House candidate Sarah Palin’s campaign headquarters in South Anchorage on Aug. 31, 2022. (Chris Klint/Alaska Public Media)

We often judge political campaigns by the money they raise and the image they project in their ads. We thought up another measure: What’s the ambience at their campaign headquarters?

Channeling Architectural Digest, we went to check out the vibe at the Anchorage headquarters of the three main U.S. House candidates – Mary Peltola, Nick Begich III and Sarah Palin.

Mary Peltola campaign, Spenard Road

Architecture: 1980s strip mall

Nearest neighbor: Pet supply shop, in next storefront

We dropped in without notice and were greeted at the front desk by Fletcher Harris, who appears in Peltola campaign videos as the guy who delivers yard signs. Upon learning that the guest is a reporter, Organizing Director Rene Martin stepped in. 

two men in front of peltola banner
Fletcher Harris, who distributes lawn signs, and Peltola campaign organizer Rene Martin, behind the front desk at Peltola headquarters, on Spenard Road. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

The office is mostly empty.

“On a day with blue skies this is actually very good news, because it means everyone is out knocking doors,” Martin said.

This is a huge limitation of judging a campaign by its headquarters: So much of the work doesn’t take place here. But some of the campaign energy and and character comes through, so we carry on with our vibe-check and challenge Martin to describe the decor.

“Oh boy,” he said, searching his brain for interior design terms. “Campaign casual?”

The room behind the front desk is large and haphazardly furnished, with unmatching chairs and desks in no particular alignment. A large dog toy – a half-chewed rope – is on the floor.

“Yeah, our campaign mascot is Rainy,” Martin said. “He’s on loan to us from our digital consultants.”

The dog, like almost everyone else, was out that afternoon.

The Peltola campaign didn’t have its own offices until after she found out she’d won the special election. Martin said the organization has been rapidly growing. He is an experienced campaign hand from Cleveland, one of several non-Alaskans working here. 

Nick Begich III campaign, Northern Lights Boulevard

Architecture: 1980s strip mall.

Nearest neighbors: A wig store and a private motor vehicle licensing office.

On our first attempt to visit the door was locked. We called for an appointment and the next morning, the candidate greeted us at the entrance of his impressive headquarters.

“Yeah, it’s spacious,” he said.

man in office with 'nick begich' signs
Nick Begich’s headquarters has a designer color scheme and is more pulled-together than the average campaign office. He rented it fully furnished. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

It’s more than spacious. It’s unusually put-together for a campaign office. The walls have a designer color scheme – chartreuse, teal and coral pink. Even the cubicle dividers look cool, with a bold red graphic design.

Begich said he rented it furnished, and it looked like this when he got it.

“It was a turnkey space,” he said.

A previous tenant sold office furniture. Begich figures it was set up to show off the wares.

A small team sits around a conference table, quietly putting rubber bands on campaign leaflets.

Begich shows me the small upstairs, where his desk is. It’s a Zoom-ready space, with innocuous framed art as a backdrop. Out of camera range are more personal items.

“I have an ironing board – I do iron my own shirts if I need to – and a pillow,” Begich said. “Because I work sometimes 16-hour days. And sometimes I’ll just have to crash for about 30 minutes.”

He has been campaigning for the seat for about a year. He worked out of his house for months, and now here.

“And I go full-time on this, like it’s a start-up.”

Start-up – that’s what the vibe is here: Tech start up. 

Sarah Palin campaign, aka Ward Realty, Old Seward Highway

Architecture: Low-slung commercial space, built in 1960s and painted blue

Nearest neighbor: Judy’s Cafe, across the parking lot

The door is unlocked on a sunny afternoon. Campaign volunteer – and building owner – Margaret Ward greeted an unexpected drop-in warmly from a little table by the window. She’s quick to laugh. We barely started chatting before her husband arrived.

“Oh, here’s Jerry!” she said.

man in front of "sarah for Alaska" sign
Jerry Ward, senior advisor to the Palin campaign, in the Palin headquarters, which is in his real estate office. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Palin senior campaign advisor Jerry Ward said he’d been out checking on six volunteers who were knocking on doors nearby.

Ward was Donald Trump’s main campaign guy in Alaska and helped arrange the Trump rally in Anchorage in July.

The room, along with huge “Sarah for Alaska” signs, has colored strip lights, tinsel, and crepe paper streamers.

“My grandkids did this and this is beautiful. Red, white and blue,” Ward said. “And there’s a balloon over there, too.”

Yes, just one. It’s blue, with stars on it. If it was ever lighter than air, it’s not now. It dangles from its tether on the wall.

Back at the little table by the window, the Wards talk about their grandchildren and their long Alaska heritage. 

In the center of the table is a bible, with a custom cover that’s inscribed with family names. Jerry Ward said he brought it from home so he could do on-the-spot research.

“People will come in and quote the Bible to me and I have to look it up,” he said. “I don’t know it by heart.”

Who comes in and quotes Bible verses at him? 

“Different people have done it,” he said. “Not everyone. Some people just want a button or a sticker, or they want to know how they can get a picture with Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.”

This headquarters is more of a reflection of the Wards. But it does share elements that Palin projects – It’s homey, personality-driven, and has Trump’s seal of approval.

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.

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