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DOWNING: Will Stubborn Republicans Turn Alaska Blue?

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Suzanne Downing Contributor
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In an election year that appears to favor Republicans for the U.S. House of Representatives, the longtime GOP stronghold of Alaska went blue in August, and the state’s lone congressional seat could be relegated to the Democrat minority come January.

How did that happen in a state the pundits all say is reliably red? (RELATED: DOWNING: Here’s How A Little-Known Democrat Broke The GOP’s 49-Year Hold On Alaska’s Lone House Seat)

Alaskans were duped in 2020. They approved an untried voting adventure sold to them as a way to get dark money out of elections.

The initiative ushered in a complicated system that destroyed the Republican primary ballot and instituted a ranked choice voting general election. The intent, fueled with $7 million in money from outside Alaska and organized by Sen. Lisa Murkowski loyalists, was to ensure that Murkowski was able to avoid a Republican primary, and return to the Senate this fall with the help of Democrat voters.

Murkowski sailed through the 2022 open primary with the help of Democrat-leaning voters, and is likely to claim victory in the November general election. If Dittman Research polling is correct, Murkowski could win. Her leading Republican opponent, Kelly Tshibaka, has her own Cygnal Research polling that shows it’s a closer match.

What the progressives who pushed the new system didn’t know back in 2020 is that Congressman Don Young would die during the first year for the jungle primary and ranked choice voting adventure.

Young had already faced a challenge from someone who had co-chaired his 2020 re-election campaign — businessman Nick Begich.

But upon Young’s death on March 18, dozens of Alaskans filed to replace him, including the most famous person Alaska has ever produced — political firebrand Sarah Palin.

During the special primary and special general election, Begich and Palin were beat by a Democrat who had almost no statewide name recognition. Mary Peltola served for decade in the Alaska Legislature as Mary Nelson, Mary Kapsner and Mary Sattler, through various marriage names. But she had not been in office since 2009 and her name-switching made her a mystery candidate for some.

How did this happen? Republican voters refused to rank the other Republican on the ballot. Too few played the ranked choice game.

Thus, Peltola won the temporary seat with just 40% of the vote, and Begich and Palin combined had 60%. Begich won more votes when all second choice votes were tallied, but he didn’t have enough first choice votes to win.

The test for November, when the two-year congressional seat will be decided, is whether Alaska conservatives will be able to get beyond their distaste for the entire ranked choice system.

This year, Alaskans will use the unique election system they birthed. In the future, this Murkowski scheme will only live on if the state legislature remains in the purple column, where it is now.

Senators and representatives can repeal the adventure in voting scheme, but will they?

Another likely player, the Alaska Republican Party, hasn’t been particularly effective in years. It has no staff, and is largely silent these days, even though it did endorse Tshibaka and does not endorse Murkowski. It isn’t likely to find its spine and the volunteers and funds to take on the ballot measure that passed with a 1% margin of victory two years ago.

It hasn’t helped that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Senate Majority Fund is backing Murkowski with millions of dollars and the national RNC is silent on the race.

In the House race, the Alaska Republican Party endorsed Begich, but doesn’t seem eager to take on Palin, even though Palin routinely describes the party as a “good-old-boy” system.

The only practical way forward for Alaskans is to elect a fearlessly conservative legislature that will wipe out the initiative, which it can legally do after two years of it being in statute.

Between redistricting, changing demographics, a weak Alaska Republican Party and ranked choice voting now in state law, the outcome of the November election is going to be a wild ride for conservatives.

Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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