Former Alaska governor and Republican ex-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin leads in early results from Saturday’s special primary for the state’s only US House seat in what could be a remarkable political re-emergence.
Voters in the far north-western state are whittling down the list of 48 candidates running for the position that was held for 49 years by the late US Representative Don Young.
The early results showed Palin, endorsed by Donald Trump, with 29.8% of the votes counted so far; Republican Nick Begich had 19.3%; independent Al Gross had 12.5%; Democrat Mary Peltola with 7.5%; and Republican Tara Sweeney had 5.3%.
A candidate whose name is Santa Claus, a self-described “independent, progressive, democratic socialist”, had 4.5%.
In a statement Palin said she was looking forward to “fixing this country by responsibly developing Alaska’s God-given resources” and then expressed rightwing talking points on gun rights, abortion and a desire for a smaller government.
The top four vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, will advance to an August special election in which ranked choice voting will be used. The winner of the special election will serve the remainder of Young’s term, which ends in January. Young died in March at age 88.
This election was unlike any the state has seen, crammed with candidates and conducted primarily by mail. This was the first election, too, under a system approved by voters in 2020 that ends party primaries and uses ranked choice voting in general elections.
Saturday marked the first ballot count; state elections officials plan additional counts on Wednesday and Friday, and a final count on 21 June. They have targeted 25 June to certify the race.
Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, released a statement expressing gratitude “to all of my wonderful supporters who voted to make Alaska great again!”
The sheer number of candidates left some voters overwhelmed, and many of the candidates themselves faced challenges in setting up a campaign on the fly and trying to leave an impression on voters in a short period of time. The candidate filing deadline was April 1.
Palin’s run marks her first bid for elected office since resigning as governor partway through her term in 2009. She was endorsed in this campaign by some national political figures who participated in a “telerally” for her and said Palin would “fight harder than anybody I can think of”, particularly on energy issues.
Palin sought to assure voters that she is serious about her bid and committed to Alaska.
During the campaign, opponents poked at that. Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who made an unsuccessful run for US Senate in 2020, said Palin “quit on Alaska”. Begich and Sweeney made points of saying they are not quitters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report