Sarah Palin on Wednesday lost the race for the state’s only U.S. House seat to Democrat Mary Peltola, who will succeed the late Rep. Don Young (R) and serve out the four months remaining in his term after his March death.
Peltola, 49, is the first Democrat to win the House race in Alaska since 1973, when Young was elected for the first of what would eventually be 25 times. She is the first Alaska Native to serve in the House, and the first woman to take the seat.
“I feel like I need to catch my breath for a minute,” Peltola said in the moments after state election officials announced the results, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
“What’s most important is that I’m an Alaskan being sent to represent all Alaskans,” said Peltola, who is Yup’ik. She added in a subsequent statement that she was “honored and humbled” by the support she’d received and that she was looking forward to carrying on Young’s “legacy of bipartisanship.”
A former state lawmaker, Peltola collected 51.5 percent of the final vote in Alaska’s first statewide election that asked voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Palin, a former Alaska governor, came in three percentage points lower, with 48.5 percent of the vote.
The primary election was held Aug. 16, but it took 15 days to tabulate the votes, including all absentee ballots, and calculate the winner based on the rankings. (The new system was introduced via referendum two years ago.) Peltola led the race heading into Wednesday’s number-crunching.
Republican Nick Begich III—grandson of the last Democrat to serve as Alaska’s representative to the U.S. House, also named Nick Begich—came in third in the primary. Alaskans who had chosen him as their top pick had their votes reallocated to their second-choice candidate.
All three—Peltola, Palin, and Begich—are set to square off again in November, vying in the general election for the next two-year term.
Palin, also the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, hasn’t held office since resigning partway through her term in 2009, though she secured former President Donald Trump’s endorsement for the special election. She outspent Peltola by a four-to-one ratio, according to Politico.
Palin, 58, told the Anchorage Daily News that she wasn’t surprised by Wednesday’s result, widely seen as an upset. But she castigated the ranked-choice voting system as “crazy, convoluted, confusing” in a statement.
“Though we’re disappointed in this outcome, Alaskans know I’m the last one who’ll ever retreat,” Palin added.
She and Peltola are old colleagues, having worked side by side in Alaska’s Statehouse. Accordingly, the women treated each other with decorum that verged on fondness along the campaign trail. Palin called her Democratic opponent a “sweetheart”; Peltola returned the favor, telling KSKA she thought Palin was “great.”
An hour before the race was called, the pair were together at a candidate forum on natural resource development. They hugged and chatted off to the side before fielding questions, the Daily News reported.
Palin openly disdained Begich, however, assailing him as “Negative Nick” and a “RINO,” or Republican in Name Only. Begich, in turn, called Palin “self-aggrandizing” and accused her of abandoning her state to “get rich and famous.”
Peltola, a former inter-tribal fisheries manager known among her fellow lawmakers for a pointed lack of cynicism, kept her campaign fiercely positive. “It’s been very attractive to a lot of people to have a message of working together and positivity and holding each other up and unity and as Americans none of us are each other’s enemy,” she said, according to The Washington Post.
“That is just a message that people really need to hear right now.”