Politics

Thousands gather in Anchorage for Trump rally

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated. Click here to read the latest version.

Former President Donald Trump spoke for 90 minutes at a rally in Anchorage on Saturday to support Republican U.S. House candidate Sarah Palin and U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka.

“I’m here for two reasons: to support great candidates and to fulfill my promise to Alaska,” Trump said, referring to his vow to campaign against incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted to impeach him.

Trump took the stage around 4:30 p.m., remarked on what a special place Alaska is — “I’ve heard for years there’s no place more beautiful and I agree” — then launched into attacks against Murkowski, who is campaigning for reelection.

He called Murkowski challenger Kelly Tshibaka “wonderful” and former Gov. Palin “legendary.” Murkowski, he called “worse than a RINO” — Republican In Name Only.

Trump also spoke in praise of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who is running for reelection, calling him “terrific.” But Dunleavy was not in attendance and did not meet with Trump during his brief visit to Alaska, a Dunleavy spokesman said. Trump has said he will endorse Dunleavy as long as Dunleavy doesn’t support Murkowski.

In his lengthy remarks, Trump celebrated recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions including the one that overturned abortion protections guaranteed in Roe v. Wade, took aim at President Joe Biden, glorified his own time in office, repeated lies and debunked claims about the results of the 2020 elections and took repeated aim at Murkowski, who broke with her party on several occasions to go against Trump.

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Trump also took aim at Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Republican Dan Sullivan, for endorsing Murkowski’s re-election campaign. The former president also blasted ranked choice voting, which was approved by Alaska voters in a ballot measure in 2020 and is being implemented for the first time this year in the upcoming U.S. House special election.

Rally-goers began lining up in the early hours Saturday. Music, food trucks and vendors selling Trump merchandise lent the event an air of a festival rather than a political rally, and several attendees said they had arrived to see Trump rather than to support the Alaska candidates.

Jerry Gamez and his wife Christina — a retired Anchorage couple — paid $250 each to skip the line and secure their spots in the crowd. Eddie Erickson and Ty Saylor, 18-year-olds from Soldotna, said they drove together to Anchorage on Friday night so they could get in line at 5 a.m. Saturday.

By the time Trump took the stage, nearly every seat in the Alaska Airlines Center arena was full. The arena’s capacity is 5,000.

The rally drew prominent Republican state lawmakers — including House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton of Wasilla and Reps. Kevin McCabe of Big Lake and Sarah Vance of Homer — along with local officials, such as Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson and Anchorage Public Library deputy director Judy Norton Eledge.

[Photos: Trump appears at Anchorage rally]

“It’s almost emotional seeing people come together,” Bronson said in an interview before Trump spoke, adding that he “would like to see Donald Trump as President.”

“His policies were the best policies for this country and this state that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” Bronson said. “I know he irritates a lot of people but that’s fine, that’s his nature. In Alaska, we were booming under Donald Trump, and why anyone would oppose his efforts, especially here in Alaska, I can’t fathom.”

Bronson said he supports Tshibaka “wholeheartedly” but in the U.S. House election, he said “there is no upside” to engaging in the race, which includes conservative Republican Nick Begich alongside Trump-endorsed Palin.

Doors opened at 11 a.m., but a line of people waiting to enter the arena still wrapped around the building when Anchorage chief equity officer Uluao “Junior” Aumavae led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance just before 2 p.m.

People continued to stream into the building as Palin and Tshibaka took the stage. Both candidates wasted no time in blasting their opponents.

“I know the good old boys club and too many RINOs are part of it,” Palin said. She then called out her Republican opponent in the U.S. House race, Begich, who has said he voted for the former Democratic Anchorage mayoral candidate Ethan Berkowitz in 2015. Begich has said he voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020.

Democrat Mary Peltola is also on the ballot for the special election to fill the House seat, along with several others running in the general election primary in August.

Palin commanded loud cheers from the crowd, who chanted “drill, baby, drill!” — the phrase repeated by Palin on Saturday that dates back to 2008, when Palin was a vice presidential candidate. But among the Alaska GOP, there is no consensus on Palin. Conservative Anchorage Mayor Bronson and state House Minority Leader Tilton declined to say if they would vote for Palin, even as they said they would support Tshibaka.

Trump Rally

Palin embraced her identity as an outsider to the party, drawing a connection between her experience and that of Trump and his supporters.

“We have been mocked and ridiculed and falsely accused and told to sit down and shut up,” she said. “The stuff that you’ve heard about me — it’s a lie. I’m way worse than what you’ve heard.”

Tshibaka, the former Dunleavy-appointed commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration, dedicated her 10 minutes on stage to drawing a comparison between herself and incumbent Murkowski. Trump promised to campaign against Murkowski after she was one of seven Republicans in the U.S. Senate who voted to impeach him following the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

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“This Senate seat is often the deciding vote that can affect the rest of the nation,” Tshibaka said. Murkowski is known for her willingness to buck the party line on key issues, including abortion access, judicial nominees and gun control.

“It is time for a change,” Tshibaka repeated over and over again.

Murkowski was scheduled to meet with constituents in Kenai and Soldotna on Saturday. Begich held several campaign events in Anchorage on Saturday, his spokesperson Truman Reed said.

“It is unfortunate that Lisa Murkowski’s political opponents continue to try to deceive Alaskans by misrepresenting her strong, demonstrated record of getting the job done in the Senate,” Murkowski campaign spokesperson Shea Siegert said in a statement. “Lisa has a proven history of putting politics aside and delivering for Alaska.”

Both Palin and Tshibaka have repeated debunked claims about the results of the 2020 presidential election and have supported Trump despite mounting evidence that Trump knew his supporters were armed during the violent Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and wanted to join them in the Capitol.

In interviews before the rally, many of the attendees dismissed evidence that has emerged in recent weeks indicating that Trump knew his supporters were armed ahead of the Capitol attack. Several also repeated false claims questioning the validity of the 2020 election.

Before Palin and Tshibaka took the stage, Mike Lindell, the executive of a pillow company and a prominent Trump supporter, addressed the crowd. He made the false claim that 20,000 votes “were stolen” from Trump in Alaska in the 2020 election. Trump won Alaska by a 36,000-vote margin, but lost the national general election.

“Trump 2024″ shirts and the recognizable “Make America Great Again” red hats were ubiquitous at the rally. A playlist of hits kept the ambience upbeat even as audience members waited hours for Trump to take the stage.

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Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The Associated Press and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.

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