The stage is officially set for a MAGA-fueled election season in one of America’s wildest and most politically idiosyncratic states: Alaska.
On Tuesday, Alaskans voted in a rare doubleheader election: a primary to set the field for the state’s U.S. House and Senate elections in November, and a special election to fill the rest of the late GOP Rep. Don Young’s term in Congress. That contest’s votes will not be fully counted until late August.
Regardless, Donald Trump’s two choices for Alaska’s House and Senate seats are very much alive heading into the heart of election season—allowing the ex-president an opportunity to cement his influence in the state by elevating an ally and unseating an enemy.
On that first front, Trump-endorsed Sarah Palin—the former Alaska governor turned VP candidate turned reality star—is set to advance to the general election ballot for the U.S. House race, the first open-seat contest for Alaska’s lone seat after five decades of Young’s service.
On the second, Sen. Lisa Murkowski—one of six GOP senators who voted to convict Trump after Jan. 6—will advance to the general election as she seeks a third term in the U.S. Senate. But so will Kelly Tshibaka, the candidate running as Trump’s choice to exact revenge on an apostate Republican.
The peculiarities of Alaska, and its election system, means these races are not exactly straightforward. The state has an open primary system where the top four vote-getters, regardless of party, move on to the general election.
In November, as well as in the special election that also happened Tuesday, the winner will be chosen through a system called ranked choice voting. Sometimes referred to as an “instant runoff,” ranked choice asks voters to rank their preferred candidates, so that a winner is automatically chosen if no candidate cracks a simple majority on the first ballot.
The Senate race is largely seen as a contest between Tshibaka and Murkowski.
The House race is more dynamic. Palin faces two leading rivals, one from each party. Nick Begich, who comes from a famous Democratic family in Alaska, is running as a stridently right-wing conservative, though he lacks Trump’s endorsement. Begich has already attacked Palin harshly, tapping into many Alaska Republicans’ discontent over the former governor’s career arc and perceived disengagement with the state’s issues.
Democrat Mary Peltola will also factor into the top four. If she wins, she would be the first Alaska Native ever elected to Congress from the state, which has a sizable indigenous minority.
Alaska has been consistently Republican at the presidential level for decades, but it has an independent streak: No other state has a higher share of voters who are unaffiliated with any political party.
Those dynamics have convinced Democrats to invest resources in contesting its congressional seats, though those efforts have not yet paid off. In 2020, GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan beat a well-funded Democratic-aligned challenger by 12 points, and Young won his final race against a repeat Democratic-aligned candidate by nearly 10 points.