Note: This story has been updated with a new article: 51 candidates: A wild U.S. House race takes shape in Alaska
A field 51 candidates have filed to run in the special election to fill Alaska’s lone U.S. house seat, in a slate that includes former Gov. Sarah Palin, North Pole City Council member Santa Claus, current and former lawmakers, a homebuilder and his brother.
The number of candidates is more than twice as large as that seen in any other primary in the state’s history, and greater than the number of people who ran the Iditarod this year.
The 51 candidates continued to stream in until the 5 p.m. Friday deadline, two weeks after the sudden death of the state’s congressman of 49 years, Don Young. Some of the candidates were associated with Young; others had already planned to run against him before his death. Many others entered the race in the past few days, including right up to the deadline on Friday. Their experience runs the gamut from political novices to veterans of several statewide campaigns.
In the special election, voters will select who will replace the state’s congressman of 49 years, Don Young, who died suddenly while traveling back to Alaska two weeks ago.
The primary election date is June 11, but this will be Alaska’s first statewide by-mail election. Ballots will be mailed to overseas voters starting April 27, and Alaskans have until May 12 to register or update their addresses in order to receive a ballot.
Final results will be announced June 26, and the top four vote-getters advance to the Aug. 16 special general election, where a winner will be chosen by ranked-choice voting.
The special general election is on the same date as the primary for a full term in office, and one or more candidates could appear in both the special general and the regular primary. The four winners of that primary will advance to a ranked-choice vote during the November general election.
Former Gov. Sarah Palin joins crowded race for U.S. House seat
Updated, 5:15 p.m.
Sarah Palin, who ran unsuccessfully for vice president before resigning as Alaska’s governor in 2009, said Friday that she’s filing to run for her state’s sole seat in U.S. Congress.
“Public service is a calling, and I would be honored to represent the men and women of Alaska in Congress, just as Rep. Young did for 49 years,” Palin said on Facebook. “I realize that I have very big shoes to fill, and I plan to honor Rep. Young’s legacy by offering myself up in the name of service to the state he loved and fought for, because I share that passion for Alaska and the United States of America.”
Palin, who confirmed her entrance in a statement sent by campaign manager and longtime friend Kris Perry, is one of more than 50 candidates running to replace Young.
She filed at the Division of Elections office in Wasilla on Friday afternoon, where Max Sumner, a partner in a Wasilla homebuilding company, was also registering for the race — his first-ever campaign for public office.
“Quite frankly, when I saw her, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t have a chance of winning,’ — not that I did before,” Sumner said in a phone interview Friday.
Sumner said state elections officials were shocked to see the filing from Palin, who had teased a campaign in recent days.
“One of them said, ‘I didn’t expect that in a million years,’ ” Sumner said. “I was like, ‘Why not?’ Sarah Palin, of course she’s going to run for office again.”
Palin and Sumner filed with roughly an hour left before the 5 p.m. filing deadline. The race has officially reached the point where everyone and their brother has entered: Sumner’s brother Jesse, a member of the Mat-Su Borough Assembly, said he was also filing to run before the deadline.
Emil Notti, who ran against Don Young in 1973, jumps into the race
Update, 3:55 p.m.
When Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young won his first-ever term in Congress in a special election in 1973, his Democratic opponent was Alaska Native leader Emil Notti.
Nearly 50 years later, Notti, 89, has filed to run again, weeks after Young’s death left the seat open.
Notti, a lifelong Democrat, said he’d run only for the special election to finish Young’s term. “Just to keep watch out for the Alaska interests, whatever might come up in that short period of time,” he said earlier this week.
Notti was the first president of the Alaska Federation of Natives and one of the architects of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
He’s also served as commissioner of two state agencies and president of Doyon, Ltd., the Alaska Native corporation for the Interior.
In an interview Friday, he said the deciding factor pushing him to run was the “support and encouragement” of friends and acquaintances from across the state.
“They trust my judgement. They think I have the ability to do what needs to be done,” he said.
Despite his age, Notti said he is in good heath.
“I’m not looking at a long term career so it’s wasn’t really a hard decision,” he said.
His 1973 campaign could serve as a blueprint for his current campaign, he said, because both were special elections with short campaign seasons. (edited)
— Iris Samuels and Nat Herz
Tara Sweeney files paperwork to run in U.S. House special election
Updated, 3:20 p.m.
Tara Sweeney, an Alaska Native leader who co-chaired U.S. Rep. Don Young’s re-election campaign until his death last month, will run in the special and regular elections to replace him.
Sweeney is Iñupiaq and served as assistant secretary for Indian affairs during the Trump administration. She has also worked as an executive at Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and was co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
Sweeney’s mother, Eileen Panigeo MacLean, served three-and-a-half terms in the Alaska House representing rural communities including the North Slope hub town of Utqiagvik, then known as Barrow.
“Over the past several days I have heard from countless Alaskans across our diverse state encouraging me to run for Congress,” Sweeney said in a prepared statement. “After deep reflection, and with a humble heart, I will once again answer the call to serve the state and people that I love.”
Sweeney added that she is “excited to share with my fellow Alaskans my vision for the future” in the coming weeks, and declined to comment further until next week.
Among the dozens of candidates running against Sweeney is the other co-chair of Young’s re-election campaign, Anchorage Republican state Sen. Josh Revak.
— Nat Herz
Among the candidates are several who don’t live in Alaska. That’s allowed.
Update, 2:30 p.m.
Two men from California and one from Montana are among the candidates who have filed for Alaska’s special U.S. House election to replace Rep. Don Young.
The three out-of-state candidates registered through noon Friday are Robert Ornelas of Alameda, California; John Richard Myers of Cut Bank, Montana; and David Thistle of La Jolla, California.
The federal Constitution, which sets the requirements for serving in the House, requires that elected members of the House live in the state they represent, but it does not require candidates to do so.
A 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down a residency requirement imposed by Tennessee and said other states could not require candidates to be residents.
Out-of-state candidates have registered for Alaska’s federal races before. In 2018, Carol Hafner of New Jersey won about 15% of the vote during the Democratic primary for U.S. House. (Alyse Galvin won the primary and was defeated by Young during the general election.)
Thistle is a regular participant in out-of-state elections across the country and has previously run for president. By phone, he said he believes it’s important to hold states accountable to the language of the Constitution, which allows Americans to run for office in other states.
He said he wants to “first and foremost defend the Constitution,” but as for his qualifications for office, the disabled veteran said, “I’m probably the worst candidate for the job. I’m probably the least-prepared.”
Myers, who is registered to vote in Alaska under his Montana address, did not answer a call seeking comment. (Alaska allows people who do not live in the state to vote here as long as they intend to return to the state.)
Neither Ornelas nor Thistle are registered to vote in Alaska.
Ornelas confirmed his residency in Alameda but deferred further questions to a friend in Anchorage who said Ornelas intends to move here to campaign.
— James Brooks
Former lawmaker Andrew Halcro joins the race
Update, 2:10 p.m.
Andrew Halcro has joined the race as a nonpartisan candidate, promising to run only for the special election and not to seek a full term in the November election.
The former Republican state lawmaker made an argument against running in both races, saying a candidate elected in the special election would then spend the remainder of Don Young’s term campaigning.
“From mid-August to the first week of November, they’re on the campaign trail. They’re not filling Don Young’s shoes,” Halcro said.
Halcro served as a Republican state house member representing Anchorage between 1999 and 2003. He hosted a politics podcast distributed by the Anchorage Daily News. (The ADN stopped hosting the podcast when Halcro decided to consider entering the race.)
The rental car company executive has also served as president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority. He touted his political experience, along with his time hosting a political podcast, as preparing him for the role.
“When you compare my qualifications against all fo the frontrunners, I am at least qualified if not more qualified than all of them,” he said.
Halcro is still a registered Republican but is running unaffiliated.
“I just don’t recognize anybody in my party. They don’t understand the economy. They don’t understand communities. They don’t understand society,” he said.
Halcro considered a run against Don Young in 2010 but ultimately decided against it. He ran for governor in 2006 as an independent candidate, finishing third with less than 10% of the vote.
— Iris Samuels
Candidate list keeps growing with former lawmaker Mary Sattler Peltola
Update, 1:35 p.m.
Mary Sattler Peltola, a Democratic former state legislator from Southwest Alaska, said Friday that she will run in the special and regular elections for Alaska’s U.S. House seat.
Peltola, 48, is Yup’ik and represented the Bethel area in the Alaska Legislature for a decade in the state House, after first being elected at age 24.
She’s now executive director of the Bethel-based Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which helps manage and conserve salmon in the major Southwest Alaska waterway.
“I think that there is a lack of understanding about the level of food insecurity that most rural communities are now facing because of the lack of abundance of salmon, and in some areas, caribou,” Peltola said in a phone interview Friday. “We’re seeing it with marine mammals and shorebirds, and I think that rural Alaskan issues do need to be considered by any statewide candidate.”
Peltola has lifelong connections with the late U.S. Rep. Don Young, whose death in office last month led to the special election that Peltola has now entered. Her father was a schoolteacher with Young in the village of Fort Yukon, then went into the aviation industry and flew Young around the state during his first runs for office — while her pregnant mother campaigned for Young in the Yup’ik language.
“I have always known how many years Don Young has been in office: It’s been my age plus one,” Peltola said.
Peltola said she’s still sorting out the details of her campaign and contending with a deluge of messages amid her announcement; she got seven texts and five phone calls during a 20-minute interview. She said she’s been talking informally with a partner at Anchorage-based progressive political consulting firm Ship Creek Group.
— Nat Herz
State Rep. Adam Wool enters the race
Update, 1 p.m.
Democrat State. Rep. Adam Wool filed for the special election Friday, saying he was compelled to run because he did not see other candidates that he would support.
“I just didn’t want to have this deadline go by,” he said in an interview. “I didn’t really see anyone on the list of 30 people who I thought represented me.”
As of Friday afternoon, the Division of Elections had reported 33 candidates for the seat, including Wool.
Wool had not decided as of Friday if he would run for the regular November election or just to fill the remainder of Young’s term.
“Maybe I’ll get such as outpouring of supporting that I’ll be in it for the long run,” he said.
Wool, who is running as a Democrat, said he was endorsing Lisa Murkowski for the U.S. Senate race and hopes to draw support from across the aisle.
A long time owner of the Blue Loon — a restaurant, bar, movie theater and concert venue in Fairbanks — Wool is also known for sponsoring the bill that legalized ride sharing services in Alaska such as Uber and Lyft.
Like Republican state Sen. Josh Revak, Wool said he would not resign his post in the state Legislature at the onset of his campaign for the U.S. House.
The “jungle” format of the primary — where the top four candidates in the June special primary advance to a special general election in August — may work in Wool’s favor, he said.
“With 30 people, I don’t know how many votes you need to get the top four,” Wool said.
— Iris Samuels and James Brooks
Santa Claus enters U.S. House race
Update, 11:35 a.m.
Santa Claus is running…for Congress.
The man once known as Thomas O’Connor changed his legal name and now lives, aptly, in the city of North Pole, outside Fairbanks, where he serves on the city council.
Claus filed paperwork Friday with the Federal Election Commission indicating that he would run for the U.S. House seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Rep. Don Young. He also has launched a website.
He is not affiliated with any party but describes himself as an “independent, progressive, democratic socialist.”
The 74-year-old said in an interview Friday he would run only for the special election to finish Young’s term, but not for the regular November election. He said he had considered the run before Young’s death.
Uninterested in meetings with large crowds due to the pandemic, he said he would focus his campaign on Zoom meetings and social media. He also said he would not hire any staff or take any campaign donations.
“Santa believes all members of Congress must find common ground, work together to represent their diverse constituencies, and move our nation forward in a productive manner that ensures happiness, peace, good health, and prosperity for everyone living in the United States, including Alaska,” his website says.
His platform includes promoting child heath and safety, advancing cooperation among Arctic nations on climate change, and taking advantage of federal funding for projects like rural broadband access.
Claus’ politics are progressive; a 2020 Anchorage Daily News profile described him as a “medical-marijuana-using, Bernie-supporting vegetarian monk who lives at the poverty line.”
While his politics are different from those of Young, his unusual approach to Washington traditions would be in line with Young’s unique antics, which included once wearing a propeller-topped beanie to a congressional hearing.
“I don’t like getting dressed up,” Claus said. “So I’m thinking, well, if I went to Congress, maybe I should just wear the Santa suit.”
— Nat Herz and Iris Samuels
As expected, state Sen. Josh Revak files for House seat
Those filing Friday include state Sen. Josh Revak, an Anchorage Republican who previously served as the co-chair for Young’s reelection campaign.
Revak said he would run in both the special election to carry out the remainder of Young’s term and the regular election for the new term beginning in January. He said he would not immediately resign from his position as state senator representing Anchorage.
Other candidates considering a run include Young’s fellow campaign co-chair Tara Sweeney, an Alaska Native leader who served as assistant secretary of the interior for Indian affairs under the Trump administration. Revak said the two have a “cordial” relationship.
Revak, an Army veteran, previously served as a military and veterans affairs adviser to Young. In an interview Thursday, he said he was “very uncomfortable” with the filing deadline as many of Young’s acquaintances and former staff were still mourning the congressman’s sudden death.
The list of candidates who have already announced runs includes Republican businessman Nick Begich, Republican former state Sen. John Coghill, independent attorney and gardening columnist Jeff Lowenfels, independent orthopedic surgeon Al Gross, and Democratic Anchorage Assembly member Christopher Constant.
A special primary is set for June 11, with the special election to complete the House term set for Aug. 16. The top four vote-getters in the special primary will advance to the special election, the first to use the state’s new ranked-choice voting system.
The August special election will coincide with the regular primary. The November general election will determine who will represent Alaska in the U.S. House for a two-year term starting in January.
— Iris Samuels
This story will be updated through the day.