Begich makes a pledge: He’ll drop out of Alaska’s U.S. House race if Dahlstrom bests him in primary.

man in office with 'nick begich' signs
Nick Begich III at his Anchorage campaign headquarters during the 2022 campaign. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

Conservatives hoping to defeat Alaska Congresswoman Mary Peltola in November dread a replay of what happened in 2022, when Republican candidates Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III spent most of their campaign energy attacking each other, right up to the general election, and Republican voters were split between the two. 

This year, the leading Republicans are Begich, again, and Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom. Begich has a plan to avoid a similar split.

“Should I finish behind Nancy Dahlstrom in the primary, I will step out of the race,” he said in a recent phone interview with Alaska Public Media. “And I would hope that others on the right side of the aisle would do the same.” 

If other Republicans would make the same pledge to dropout, it could effectively create a Republican primary. That way, Begich said, GOP voters could line up behind a single candidate. 

Another way Republicans could avoid a split would be to make use of ranked choice voting. But Begich said his way has more appeal to Republican voters.

“For those who are not a fan of ranked choice voting — and I consider myself one of those people — we can self-impose a primary among the Republicans, if we make that commitment,” Begich said.

Juli Lucky questions why a candidate would want to do that. She’s the executive director of Alaskans for Better Elections, which defends ranked choice, open primaries and the other parts of the voting system Alaskans adopted in 2020. There’s nothing wrong with Begich’s pledge, Lucky said, but dropping out after the primary would leave his fans with fewer options.

“I would encourage people to stay in the race and encourage your supporters to rank,” Lucky said. “Why would you want to deprive folks that support you — and really believe in your platform — that ability to vote for you first?”

Many ranked choice opponents feel that Peltola only won because Republicans were split. If you add the votes of the two Republicans together, they got about 2,000 more first-round votes than Peltola did. (Peltola got just under 49% of first-choices votes. The two Republicans combined got just over 49%.)

But Lucky said combining the Republican vote doesn’t tell the real story of how those voters felt. She points out that thousands of Begich voters ranked Peltola, a Democrat, as their second choice.

“What we saw is that the electorate is very complex,” Lucky said. “We saw a lot of combinations where somebody would rank somebody first, and then their second choice might not be somebody that you would think would be their second choice. Because I think that voters are complex, and this system allows them to express that.”

In any case, Dahlstrom isn’t making a pledge to drop out if she finishes behind Begich in the primary. 

“Our campaign is focused on defeating Mary Peltola and returning a Conservative Alaskan leader to Washington,” a Dahlstrom campaign spokesman said in response to an email asking whether she’d take Begich’s pledge.

While Begich has a lot of support from Republican leaders in-state, Dahlstrom has the support of several national Republican powerhouses, notably U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson. The speaker’s videotaped endorsement played at the Alaska Republican convention last weekend.

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

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