Peltola wins Alaska’s U.S. House race by 10 point margin

Incumbent Congresswoman Mary Peltola and supporters celebrate her win on Wednesday at 49th State Brewing in downtown Anchorage. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

Democrat Mary Peltola has won reelection to the U.S. House. With a massive lead in first-choice ballots, she came out nearly 10 points ahead of Republican Sarah Palin once second- and third-rankings were counted on Wednesday.

Peltola celebrated her win in downtown Anchorage at a results watch party with supporters, family and campaign volunteers — thanking all of them. Some of her supporters were in tears. Peltola said the election result says a lot.

“I think it says that Alaskans are ready for an Alaskan to represent them who isn’t spouting kind of the canned messages that we hear nationwide,” she told reporters after her victory was announced. “I think it shows that Alaskans wholeheartedly embrace nonpartisanship and embrace working together and tackling issues that Alaskans face.”

In the end, Peltola took just under 55% of the vote. Palin got just over 45%. Palin got a boost once fellow Republican Nick Begich III, who finished third, was eliminated and his 64,392 ballots redistributed during ranked choice tabulation. Nearly two-thirds of his voters chose Palin as their second choice, but 21% didn’t make a second choice – and nearly 12% went for Peltola, who won the two-year term.

A call to the Palin campaign wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday, and her social media accounts were silent in the immediate aftermath of the tabulation. Begich issued a written statement congratulating “Alaska’s next congressional representative — Mary Peltola.”

“My message to Alaskans is to continue to be involved and engaged,” Begich wrote. “We have a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people; and as such it requires the active participation of citizens, not simply to vote, but to debate, to discuss, to be informed and to work to create the future we would all like to see.”

Peltola’s win was an outcome that seemed highly improbable in March, when she filed to run for the seat that was held her entire life by Republican Congressman Don Young. Peltola, now 49, had little money or statewide name recognition. As late as July, almost a third of Alaskans surveyed had never heard of her. She was running against Palin, the most famous Alaskan alive, and several other candidates who could quickly amass million-dollar campaign accounts.

From a field of 48 primary candidates, Peltola won the special election, becoming the first woman to represent Alaska in the U.S. House and the first Alaska Native person elected to Congress. She championed a centrist message of “pro-fish, pro-family, pro-freedom.” Maybe more than her message, her measured demeanor and commitment to civility stood out.

“This campaign really showed that the style of campaign that you run matters,” said political consultant Matt Shuckerow, who largely ran Young’s last campaign. “People are growing tired of the tearing people down and simply focusing on attacking opponents.”

Mary Peltola, her family and campaign manager await results Wednesday afternoon. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

Peltola got a few lucky breaks, like when nonpartisan Al Gross dropped out of the special election in June, which focused moderate and liberals’ cash and attention on the only Democrat in the race. And then Palin and Begich spent most of the campaign attacking each other and taking umbrage.

“As Republicans turned on one or another, it allowed her to stay above the fray and to talk about issues and, again, to define herself as she wanted,” Shuckerow said.

By September, when Peltola took office to serve the remainder of Young’s term, she had gone from underdog to front-runner in the midterm general election. Money poured in from around the country as Democrats realized they had a chance to keep the seat. Ultimately, Peltola raised about $6 million.

Political consultant Art Hackney, who worked on Begich’s campaign, said the race boiled down to the qualities of the two leading candidates: Palin was too polarizing to win, while Peltola was too appealing to beat.

“The thing about Mary is she just checks all the boxes,” Hackney said. “She speaks with certainty. Great personal presentation … She was somebody that you just wanted to give a big hug to.”

The Division of Elections expects to certify the results next week. Peltola will be sworn in Jan. 3, when a new Congress begins.

Republicans will take leadership of the House, so Peltola will be a member of the minority.

Related stories:

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Alaska Gov. Dunleavy is reelected

The latest vote tallies in Alaska’s first ranked choice general election

Missed the ranked choice vote count? Watch now.

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