Election denialism lingers in Alaska’s congressional races

Kelly Tshibaka, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

A group tracking U.S. political extremism has labeled Sarah Palin and Kelly Tshibaka — the two Alaska congressional candidates endorsed by Donald Trump — as election deniers.

Palin, who is running for U.S. House, has been blunt. When asked on a candidate survey, “Do you believe Joe Biden won the presidential election in 2020?” she responded “no.”

Tshibaka, running for U.S. Senate, has offered a mix of statements about the 2020 election.

“Joe Biden is president,” she acknowledged in her survey response, but she went on to list “questions” about the 2020 election. She repeated unfounded allegations brought by Trump and his allies, none of which produced evidence of widespread fraud that held up in court.

In the days after the 2020 election, Tshibaka “went even more extreme” in a post for a right-wing blog, said Mike Ongstad, a spokesman for the Renew America Foundation, which tracks election denialism and other threats to democracy. In that post, Tshibaka called for unity but embraced a longer string of unfounded allegations.

Tshibaka, Ongstad said, was “talking about conspiracy theories about glitches in computer programs, and some of the more radical and thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories about elections in other states.”

He said she is mirroring a lot of Republican candidates elsewhere who espoused more overt election denialism before their primaries, to appeal to the Trump-supporting base.

“Now she’s tried to shift to a more palatable position on this election denialism that allows her some level of deniability, but it’s still rooted in those same core conspiracies,” Ongstad said. “And it’s still having the same detrimental effect on our democracy, by undermining confidence and stoking fear and anger about the outcome of our elections.”

The Tshibaka campaign did not respond to inquiries for this story. But she said recently that she’s inclined to accept the results of her own election, even if she loses.

“If we think that the election was done in a way where we don’t believe that there was something that went super-wrong, absolutely,” she said. “If Alaskans pick somebody else, then that’s what Alaskans pick.”

Tshibaka is challenging incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski lost the support of the state Republican party in part because she voted to convict Trump at his second impeachment, a case rooted in Trump’s refusal to accept his election defeat.

Murkowski answered “yes” to the survey question about Biden’s election. So did Democratic Senate candidate Pat Chesbro.

In the U.S. House race, Republican Nick Begich acknowledged Joe Biden is the president. He went on to list factors that shake confidence in elections — from the hanging chads of 2000 to the changes in state election law 20 years later. Begich did not include refusal to accept election results on his list of concerns.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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