Is Palin A Worse Candidate Than Blake Masters? Dr. Oz? JD Vance? Herschel Walker?
First a little context. Alaska’s PVI is R+8, same as South Carolina and far redder than Florida, North Carolina or Georgia (each with an R+3 PVI). The partisan lean is even worse than the PVI— R+15. In 2020 Trump beat Biden by 10 points. Hillary, Obama, Kerry, Gore and Bill Clinton (in 1996) all did much worse than Biden did. The last time Alaskans gave their 3 electoral votes to a Democrat was when LBJ beat Goldwater in 1964. That was also the first time. In fact, LBJ was the only Democrat a majority of Alaskans has ever voted for for president!
So why do they now have a Native-American woman Democrat as their new at-large member of Congress? How did that happen? It starts with a simple 2 word answer: Sarah Palin. She is not very popular in the state except with her long-time fans and with basically overlapping MAGA extremists. In the first round of voting, she came in second to Democrat Mary Peltola and walked away with 31.3%. In the ranked choice second round tabulation, 27,042 Nick Begich voters picked Palin as their second choice, which brought her close to winning, but not close enough. 15,445 Begich voters— for whatever reason— picked Pelota as their second choice (while 11,222 declined to pick either). That gave Peltola 91,206 (51.5%) to Palin’s 85,987 (48.5%).
This morning, David Siders, noted that Palin’s “defeat was the firmest evidence yet this year that at least some Republicans may be turned off enough to vote the other way in the midterms and potentially, beyond.” Republicans are freaked out that so many Republicans preferred Peltola— who is not a conservative Democrat— to Palin, who was heavily supported by Trump. Generally, they're blaming the ranked choice voting system for their loss, insinuating that anyone stupid enough to be a Republican in too stupid to understand how ranked choice voting works.
The expectation of many Republicans in Alaska was that in an era of super-polarized politics, partisan leanings would outweigh any reservations a voter might have about either Republican on the ballot, leading them to rank one Republican first and one second. In a state Trump won by about 10 percentage points in 2020, that would likely have been enough to keep Mary Peltola, the Democrat who ultimately won, from slipping through.
Instead, a chunk of Begich voters– about 29 percent– picked the Democrat as their second choice.
“I think a lot of us thought that having two Republicans in the race wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that … whoever came in third, their votes would go to the other Republican,” [Republican national committeewoman Cynthia] Henry said. “But that wasn’t the case.”
The problem for the GOP is that Palin is far from the only lightning rod on the ballot this fall. In swing states like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan, pro-Trump Republicans who beat more establishment-minded Republicans in primaries will now be confronting a general election electorate that rebuked Trump in 2020.
Of the coalition that Palin mustered, said David Pruhs, who has a radio show in Fairbanks and is running for mayor of that city, “It’s not enough.”
Not every Republican running nationally in November is burdened by Palin’s liabilities. One of the GOP’s original populists, she saw her reputation diminish after her 2008 vice presidential run and her resignation from the governorship in 2009.
When longtime Alaska pollster Ivan Moore of Alaska Survey Research polled Palin’s standing with Alaskans in July, her favorability rating stood at 31 percent. Republicans should have seen then, he said, that “she was on the brink of being unelectable.”
…On election night, Palin appeared exasperated, saying Begich, who received fewer first-choice votes than she did, should “get the heck out of the race and allow winner-take-all like it should be.” Begich, meanwhile, cast the election as evidence of Palin’s inability to win in November.
“I think this election was really a referendum on Sarah Palin herself – her brand, her persona,” he said in an interview.
Even in the GOP’s broader frustration with the system, there was blame reserved for Palin.
The Alaska Republican Party, which opposed the 2020 ballot measure that installed ranked-choice voting in the state, ran a “rank the red” campaign in Alaska in an effort to ensure voters selected Republicans as both their first and second choices.
Begich, who had the endorsement of the state GOP, urged his supporters to “rank the red,” as well, and said he ranked Palin second on his own ballot.
Palin, meanwhile, said after the election, “I was telling people all along, don’t comply.”
“The fact is that Nick encouraged his folks to vote for Palin second, as he did, and Palin didn’t, and I think that speaks volumes about her,” said Jim Minnery, executive director of the conservative Alaska Family Council, whose organization did not endorse in the race. “Leave it at that.”
Sean Walsh, a Republican strategist who worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses, said Palin’s loss in the special holds lessons for Republicans across the country.
“Unfortunately, I am concerned that this is the canary in this election’s coal mine,” Walsh said. “You’ve got to appeal to 50 percent plus one vote in every race in every state you’re running in … I don’t think Trump right now gets you to 50 percent plus one.”
Not a word about Alaskans generally being pro-Choice.