Sarah Palin will advance in Alaska's wild House special primary election, CNN projects

By Eric Bradner, CNN

    (CNN) -- Former Alaska governor and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin took a step toward a political comeback Saturday, finishing in the top four of a 48-person special primary election and advancing to the August general election to fill the House seat of the late Rep. Don Young, according to a CNN projection.

Palin will be joined in the special general election on August 16 by Republican Nick Begich III, the grandson of former Democratic Rep. Nick Begich, whose plane went missing in 1972 and has never been found, as well as independent Al Gross, who lost a 2020 Senate race and has said he would caucus with Democrats, CNN projects.

Votes are still being tallied to determine the fourth slot, with two candidates who each could make history as the first Alaska Native elected to Congress -- former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola and Republican Tara Sweeney, who was backed by a coalition of the state's Native corporations -- in fourth and fifth place among the ballots tallied so far. Santa Claus, a North Pole councilman and democratic socialist, is in sixth place.

Lawyer and gardening columnist Jeff Lowenfels, former Republican state Sen. John Coghill, Democratic Anchorage Assembly member Christopher Constant, Democratic state Rep. Adam Wool and Republican state Sen. Josh Revak, who was endorsed by Young's widow, are also among the contenders.

The results came after one of the nation's wildest primaries -- one that featured Palin; Claus; Begich III, the Alaska Republican Party-endorsed conservative from the state's most prominent Democratic family; and a host of former Young aides and allies.

Under Alaska's new election system, candidates of all parties, and those with no party affiliation, run on the same primary ballot, and the top four vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election.

Identifying the four candidates who will advance in the special House race could take time: Alaska mailed ballots to every voter and will continue counting those postmarked by June 11 in the coming days. Final results won't be tabulated until a final count 10 days after the primary.

The top four finishers in the primary will face off in a ranked-choice special general election on August 16, with the winner going to Congress. It'll be Alaska's first ranked-choice election since the state's voters narrowly approved an initiative in 2020 to make the switch. Under the ranked-choice system, if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the first round, then a second round of counting will take place, with the last-place finisher's first-place votes then going to those voters' second choice, and so on.

The task could be fraught for Palin: She is by far the best-known candidate in the race, but she could suffer if large numbers of voters who are Democrats or who remain angry at her decision to quit the governor's office in 2009, less than three years into her only term, rank her last.

Filling the former House seat of Young, who represented the state in the House from 1973 until his death in March, is a complicated process.

The winner on August 16 will serve the remaining months of his term through January. But August 16 is also the date of Alaska's regular primary, in which voters will cast ballots once again to determine which four candidates advance to November's regular general election for the full two-year term. It's possible the outcomes of the two races, featuring many of the same major candidates, could be different.

Palin launched her campaign with an almost-immediate endorsement from former President Donald Trump, who said he was repaying her for her early support of his 2016 presidential bid. She held a rally in Anchorage in early June that Trump called into. But she has been a relatively quiet presence on the campaign trail and has not made clear how she sees herself fitting into today's GOP in Washington.

Begich III launched his campaign for Congress before Young died. He had criticized Young's penchant for attracting federal dollars to projects in Alaska, arguing for a more fiscally conservative approach to spending.

He is the nephew of former US Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, and the grandson of Nick Begich, the Democratic congressman who held the seat until 1972, when a plane he was traveling on disappeared. Young replaced him and has been the only person torepresent Alaska in the House since then.

Gross was backed by Democrats in his unsuccessful 2020 Senate race against Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan. This time, though, the Alaska Democratic Party harshly criticized Gross after he suggested he might caucus with Republicans. He has since reversed course, with his campaign citing the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, but the state Democratic Party continued to urge voters to select one of the six registered Democrats in the race.

Peltola, a Democrat who spent 10 years in Alaska's legislature, once represented a district that is roughly the size of Oregon. If elected, she would become the first Indigenous person to represent Alaska in Congress.

"Whether it's me or someone else, I just think it's high time that an Alaska Native be part of our congressional delegation," Peltola said in an interview last week.

Sweeney, the former assistant secretary of Indian affairs at the US Interior Department, is backed by Alaska's Native corporations. Sweeney was Young's campaign co-chair. She would also become the first Indigenous person elected to represent Alaska in Congress.

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