JUNEAU, Alaska – Republican former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Republican Nick Begich and independent Al Gross have advanced to the August special election for the state's only U.S. House seat.
Palin, Begich and Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, were among 48 candidates in last Saturday's special primary for the seat, which was left vacant following the death in March of Republican Rep. Don Young. Young had held the seat for 49 years.
The top four vote-getters in the special primary advance to a special election, set for Aug. 16, in which ranked choice voting will be used. The winner of that race will serve the remainder of Young’s term, which ends in January.
State elections officials were releasing vote counts on Wednesday, the first day since the special primary in which counts were held. Counts also are planned for Friday and Tuesday.
With 132,730 votes counted, Palin had 28.3%, followed by Begich with 19.3% and Gross with 12.8%. Democrat Mary Peltola had 8.7% and Republican Tara Sweeney, 5.5%.
The election was unusual in that it was conducted primarily by mail. It also was the first election under a system approved by voters in 2020 that ends party primaries and institutes ranked voting for general elections.
The election went on as scheduled following a legal fight over ballot access issues, with the state defending itself against accusations that the manner in which the election was held discriminated against voters with visual impairments.
Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, held significant name recognition in a field that also included current and former state legislators and a North Pole city council member whose name is Santa Claus. Many of the candidates were relative unknowns.
Begich comes from a family of prominent Democrats, including uncles Mark Begich and Tom Begich, who have both held elected office. Gross unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2020 with the endorsement of state Democrats. Alaska Democratic party leaders in this race urged voters to pick a Democrat.
Peltola, who was one of six Democrats on the ballot, is a former state lawmaker. Sweeney was an assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of Interior during the Trump administration.
Palin told The Associated Press on Wednesday she felt good about the campaign she's run but wanted to see the final numbers. In a statement on election night, Palin said she was looking forward to the August special election. Palin said Wednesday she would be looking forward to it whether she had qualified for the race or not.
She said she would remain positive and would “never play ... the politics of personal destruction because I've been on the receiving end of that, and I wouldn't want that to happen to my worst enemy.”
The campaigns of Begich and Gross have reminded voters Palin resigned as governor and questioned her motives in running for the House.
Palin “quit on Alaska,” Gross said.
"She had a chance to stay in the fight for Alaska, but she chose to chase cheap fame," Begich's campaign said in a fundraising appeal.
Palin, making her first bid for elected office since resigning as governor partway through her term in 2009, attributed her resignation to an onslaught of records requests and ethics complaints she said were frivolous and had become distractions.
Palin took issue with those who have questioned her ties or commitment to the state. “I'm so Alaskan I hit a moose the other night,” she said, adding that her vehicle got totaled but that she was fine.
During this race, Palin touted endorsements from a number of national figures, including former President Donald Trump. Palin was an early supporter of Trump during his 2016 presidential bid, and he participated in a telerally for her.
An August primary and November general election will decide who serves a two-year House term beginning in January. Palin, Begich and Gross are running in that race. Peltola and Sweeney also are candidates.
Sweeney in a statement said she would meet with her campaign team and supporters in the coming days to determine “next steps” after she said it appeared that she would “fall just short” of advancing to the special election.
Begich wasn’t immediately available for comment Wednesday. An email seeking comment was sent to Gross’ campaign.
Begich’s grandfather, Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, had the House seat before Young. In 1972, the elder Begich was running against Young when Begich’s plane disappeared on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau. Begich was nonetheless reelected.
He was later declared dead and Young in 1973 won a special election for the seat. Young held the seat until his death at age 88.
The younger Begich had ties to Young, too. He was a co-chair of Young’s reelection campaign in 2020.
He began running for the House seat last fall and cast himself as someone who could bring new energy to the role. He has been endorsed by a number of conservatives and by the Alaska Republican Party.
Begich, during a campaign forum with three other Republican candidates last month, acknowledged people might be surprised that a Begich is a Republican. He said he was raised “conservative” by grandparents in Florida.
Begich said he wants to make a “business case” for the state, including the need to develop Alaska’s vast natural resources.
Gross got crosswise with some Democrats following an interview in which he did not commit to caucusing with Democrats if elected. He later said he would.
Gross’ campaign has said that Gross does not plan to seek out endorsements from either the Democratic or Republican parties.
Gross on Saturday noted that the largest bloc of registered voters in Alaska identify as independents and said Alaska needs a “new leader who represents all of Alaskans, not just a part of Alaska. And I believe I’m that guy.”
During his 2020 run, Gross sought to play up his Alaska ties, notably with an ad that said he “killed a grizzly bear in self defense after it snuck up on him.” His campaign also ran a cutesy ad referring to Gross as the “bear doctor.”
This time, Gross is playing it differently. He has a campaign leadership team that includes Republicans, independents and Democrats, including former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat.