Former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin has lost a House special election to Democrat Mary Peltola, the latest sign that Democrats have closed the voting enthusiasm gap heading into this year’s midterm elections.
Peltola defeated Palin by 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent after the votes for third-place Republican Nick Begich III’s votes were reallocated Wednesday under the state’s new ranked-choice voting system. She is the first Democrat to win a race for the House or Senate in Alaska since Begich’s Democratic cousin, former Sen. Mark Begich, did so back in 2008.
Palin’s loss was likely driven more by her own unpopularity with Alaska voters, the state’s new ranked-choice voting system, and Alaska’s inherently unique politics than any building Democratic wave. Alaskans simply don’t like Palin, whose abrupt resignation from the governor’s office in 2010, national star turn and temporary move to Arizona rubbed many of them the wrong way. And Peltola had unique crossover appeal as a moderate who had some family ties to former Republican Rep. Don Young, whose death triggered this special election.
Peltola won almost 40 percent of the initial multi-candidate vote, with a 16,000-vote lead over the second-place Palin. That meant they advanced to the next round of vote-counting, with the backup picks for Begich’s voters added in to their totals. Just half of the voters who backed Begich picked Palin as their second choice, while 29 percent picked Peltola and 21 percent opted not to choose a backup option.
But Democrats’ surprise Alaska victory marks the fifth consecutive House special election where Democrats have done better than President Biden’s 2020 numbers since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the national right to an abortion. That Democratic hot streak since late June includes closer-than expected special elections in Republican-leaning districts in rural southern Minnesota, central Nebraska, and western New York, as well as a two-point victory for Democratic Rep.-elect Pat Ryan in an exurban New York City House seat that Biden won by a slightly narrower margin in 2020.
Those results, as well as the lopsided victory for abortion rights in Kansas in early August, a relatively strong performance for Democrats in Washington’s August all-party primaries, and shifts in public and private polls towards Democrats since June, all indicate that Democrats have become significantly more energized to vote and independents are leaning more towards Democrats following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn national abortion rights and the ongoing headlines about former President Donald Trump’s myriad legal challenges.
Peltola, the first Alaska Native ever elected to Congress, will serve through the end of the year. She will square off with Palin and Begich once again in November.