JUNEAU — Mary Peltola, a former state lawmaker and one of the few Democrats in a massive field of candidates seeking Alaska’s only U.S. House seat, has advanced to an August special election, where she will face Republican former Gov. Sarah Palin, Republican Nick Begich and independent Al Gross.
The four emerged from a field of 48 candidates in a special primary for the seat left vacant by the March death of longtime Republican Rep. Don Young. Peltola, who is Yup’ik and is from the Western Alaska hub community of Bethel, was one of just six Democrats in the race.
She advanced as state elections officials announced more results Friday. Currently, Palin holds 27.6% of the vote, followed by Begich with 19.3%, Gross with 12.7% and Peltola with 9.4%. Vote counts also were conducted last Saturday and Wednesday.
Peltola, who was recovering from COVID-19, said Thursday she didn’t want to “jinx” her chances but felt good about her campaign and was encouraged and pleased.
Republican Tara Sweeney, who was assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Interior Department during the Trump administration, was in fifth place. Sweeney said Wednesday her goal was to make the top four and that it appeared she would “fall just short.” She said she planned to meet with advisers and supporters to determine “next steps.”
All 48 candidates were on the same ballot under an elections process approved by voters in 2020 that ends party primaries and implements ranked choice voting for general elections. The special primary also was unusual in that it was conducted primarily by mail, a first for a statewide election.
The special election, set for Aug. 16, will feature ranked voting. The winner will serve the rest of Young’s term, which ends in January. Young had held the seat for 49 years.
The special election is expected to coincide with the August regular primary. The regular primary and November general election will decide who will serve a new two-year House term beginning in January.
Palin, Begich, Gross and Peltola are all running in that race. Sweeney is also listed as a candidate. Democrat Christopher Constant’s campaign said Thursday he would withdraw from the August regular primary and back Peltola instead.
Peltola served five terms in the Alaska House, ending in 2009, and most recently has been executive director of a commission aimed at rebuilding salmon resources on the Kuskokwim River.
She said she wants to use her campaign to elevate issues of food insecurity and ocean productivity. A subsistence lifestyle — relying on fish, plants and other wildlife — is critical in rural Alaska, including in many Alaska Native communities, where the cost of goods is high and villages may only be accessible by plane.
She said she worked for six years for a company that is seeking to advance a gold mine project in southwest Alaska. Her campaign said she left that role following a tailings dam collapse at an unrelated mine site in Canada.