More than 28,000 ballots have already been cast ahead of the Nov. 8 election, and polling places are open for early voting. Candidates are busy making their final pitches to voters and spending big to get their names out there. Saturday is the final day for voters to request an absentee ballot. Here’s a rundown from Alaska’s campaign trails with just over 10 days to go until Election Day:
Palin makes a rare trip to her Kenai base
With less than two weeks until Election Day, U.S. House candidate Sarah Palin traveled to the Kenai Peninsula to speak with voters in what she called her most supportive area in Alaska.
About 50 people filled Ginger’s, a diner-themed restaurant in Soldotna decorated with vinyl records, to hear Palin speak. It was one of only a handful of events Palin has held to meet voters in person since launching her campaign in April.
“We have just 12 more days,” Palin told the group. “We have to do all we can.”
Palin, Alaska’s governor from 2006 until she resigned in 2009, spoke and took questions for 45 minutes on Thursday, then posed for pictures and autographs. The former vice presidential candidate said her priority is encouraging voter turnout.
“I’m not convinced that you’re changing anybody’s vote at this time, this close to the election,” she said. “I think what we need to do is drive enthusiasm.”
That’s particularly true for voters who sat out the special election in August. Turnout in the August special election was around 32%; turnout in November will likely be higher.
“A chunk of those are Trump voters, is what we call them,” she said. Trump endorsed Palin days after she announced her candidacy. “They showing up, that bodes well for my chances to grab those votes.”
On Thursday, Palin continued to rail against ranked choice voting, saying that was how a Democrat “slips on through,” and encouraged her supporters to rank Republicans on the November ballot. But the message was delivered with disclaimers.
“In Congress now -- and I love Mary Peltola. As a friend, I love her dearly. She’s a sweetheart. She’s wonderful -- but this is a deep red state, Alaska is,” Palin said.
She directed sharper words at her Republican competitor Thursday, even as she suggested him as a second choice. “Not to bad-mouth my fellow Republican, but he bad-mouthed me long enough,” she said. Palin said Nick Begich accused her of not really being Alaskan and called her a quitter for resigning her position as governor in 2009.
“I doubt he was even in Alaska at the time that I was governor, because he acts like he doesn’t know anything,” Palin said. She went on to say that she resigned because answering lawsuits and “bogus ethics violations” prevented her from properly serving the state.
Palin hopes her connection with Peltola and her contention with Begich won’t overshadow her recommendation on ballot rankings. “That’s why I’m honest and candid about it, saying I’m swallowing my pride and saying this is what’s right for Alaska is to rank the red,” she said.
In addition to meeting voters in person, Palin said she’s weighing “many, many” national interview requests between now and Election Day. She was taken aback, she said, by criticism for leaving Alaska during the campaign for speaking engagements because she views talking about Alaska to large audiences as beneficial to the state.
“I want to preach it. I want to teach it to people, and not just to politicians who I’m talking to on the phone all the time, but to their constituents so that they can pressure their representatives to vote in our favor,” she said.
“Maybe there’s a trade-off, but I’m going to keep promoting Alaska big picture,” Palin said, “Because I think the critics of me having a presence Outside, I think they’re looking for anything to criticize.”
Her trip Thursday came after staying up “all night” because she had so much to do, she said. That included rewatching Wednesday’s Debate for the State for U.S. House candidates to examine responses others gave. On Wednesday, Palin included a photo of her dozing off in a chair in an Instagram post, noting that there were “12 more sleeps til campaign ends.”
“I thought, okay, I’m going to be really honest with people and let them know, you know, it’s pretty taxing,” she said Thursday.
Palin said she had a week of traveling in store, though she didn’t say where, then plans to stick close to the Anchorage area for the run-up to Election Day to speak to more voters.
“We saw an invitation to the big GOP party, get-out-the-vote rally at Anchorage Baptist Temple, and we’re probably the only ones not invited,” she said.
Palin told her restaurant audience she may show up anyway.
After the meet-and-greet, Palin made a low-key appearance at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex to watch the Kenai River Brown Bears hockey team. She entered through a back door and watched the action from rinkside in an area sectioned off by black curtains, wincing when players crashed into the glass in front of her.
There, Palin was greeted by a handful of people, including the Brown Bears mascot, Grizz. At the second intermission, Palin and two friends who accompanied her for the day ducked out to begin the three-plus hour drive home.
— Marc Lester in Soldotna
Peltola rakes in cash
Congressional candidates filed this week their final campaign finance reports before the election, and it is good news for Democrat Rep. Mary Peltola.
Peltola raised nearly $1.4 million in the first 19 days of October, far surpassing any other Alaska candidates. And Peltola had more money in her campaign account going into the last three weeks of the election than any other candidate, including Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is widely seen as a campaign fundraising machine.
Peltola faces Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, and Libertarian Chris Bye, in her race to keep the U.S. House seat she won in an August special election. Murkowski faces Trump-backed Republican Kelly Tshibaka and Democrat Pat Chesbro in the Senate race.
Peltola’s fundraising has skyrocketed since winning the special election. The vast majority of her latest haul came from individuals, rather than political action committees. But it also included more than $140,000 from the House Victory Project, which is working to help Democrats retain control of the U.S. House. That sum alone is far more than the $81,000 Peltola raised in the first 52 days of her campaign, underscoring the meteoric rise in her name recognition and support from both Alaskans and Lower 48 Democrats who delight in the prospect of keeping Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat blue.
Peltola’s cash-on-hand as of Oct. 19 was $2.4 million, compared to Murkowski’s $2.2 million.
Elsewhere in the House race, the Republican candidates brought in substantially smaller hauls. Begich, the businessman who earlier in the campaign loaned himself $650,000, raised just under $50,000 in the reporting period and had $470,000 in the bank. Palin raised $185,000 and had $120,000 in the bank.
Bye — the Libertarian known for wearing sunglasses on his head no matter the setting and referring to other candidates as “Ms. Mary,” “Ms. Sarah,” and “Mr. Nick” — raised $480 this reporting period and had just over $4,000 in the bank with three weeks to go until Election Day.
But Peltola’s cash advantage is not a guarantee for success: Alaskans need only look to the 2020 U.S. Senate race, when Republican incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan trounced independent challenger Al Gross despite his cash advantage.
In the Senate race, Tshibaka raised double the amount that Murkowski did, but she still had far less cash in the bank in the final stretch.
Tshibaka reported raising over $500,000 in the 19-day reporting period, compared to Murkowski’s $245,000 haul. But Tshibaka had less than $700,000 in the bank, compared to Murkowski’s $2.2 million.
Some of Tshibaka’s fundraising was the fruits of a trip to the Lower 48 she took earlier this month that led her to miss the Kodiak Fisheries Debate. During that trip she held a joint fundraiser with Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, a fellow Trump-endorsee. According to her recent report, she got more than $45,000 directly from their joint fundraising committee.
Democratic Senate candidate Pat Chesbro raised $10,000 and has under $30,000 in the bank.
Campaign fundraising has become a sticking point for congressional candidates in the race, particularly those with less money to spend. In televised debates this week, both Begich in the U.S. House race and Tshibaka in the Senate race called attention to the large sums at the command of their incumbent opponents, who are also benefiting from millions spent by super PACs (candidates can’t control or coordinate PAC spending).
Tshibaka accused Murkowski in a Thursday Senate debate of being “bought and bullied by the D.C. establishment,” which Murkowski said “couldn’t be further from the truth in terms of being beholden to anybody on the Outside.”
All this money will likely be visible to many Alaskans in the days to come: Peltola spent more than $600,000 on printing expenses and a combined $340,000 on media buys and advertising in October. Murkowski spent $828,000 in media buys and $230,000 on direct mail. Tshibaka spent more than $480,000 on media buys and more than $200,000 on expenses related to direct mail and advertising.
— Iris Samuels
Is Tshibaka making a U.S. House endorsement?
Kelly Tshibaka, whose endorsement from former President Donald Trump has been key to her campaign, appeared to go against Trump’s preference in the U.S. House race in a recent campaign event.
“It looks like Nick can win. That’s what the data and the polls are showing,” Tshibaka said in a video meeting with Ketchikan supporters, speaking about Republican Nick Begich III, who is running against Trump’s favored candidate, former Gov. Sarah Palin.
Palin has “really, really, really pulled back on her campaign,” Tshibaka went on to say, noting that Palin has spent much of her time during the campaign out of state.
A Tshibaka spokesperson said the comments were made in response to a question from a Begich supporter who wanted to know if their favored candidate can win. Campaign advisor Marry Ann Pruitt said in a statement that Tshibaka “has not endorsed a candidate in the House race.”
Tshibaka has made appearances with Begich in recent weeks at events where Palin was absent. Most recently, the Alaska Republican Party announced it was holding an event in the Anchorage Baptist Temple ahead of the election, featuring Begich and Tshibaka — but not Palin.
Also on the video with Ketchikan supporters, Tshibaka described her unorthodox door-knocking tactics in a less-that-flattering impersonation of interactions with left-leaning voters, even as she attempts to court them in her bid to unseat moderate Republican incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
She described having a Democrat friend from the Lower 48 fly up to Alaska to knock on doors. Tshibaka imitated her friend speaking in an overly sweet voice followed by an excessively large smile.
“They would say something like, ‘Oh, I’m a Democrat,’ and she would say, ‘Oh, I am too. Do you know that you only have a choice between two registered Republicans in this election?” Tshibaka said on the video.
Democrat Pat Chesbro is also in the running, but is trailing the two Republicans, who have vastly different visions for the seat.
“Heather was watching her and she was like, ‘I think I just forgot that deep down, people are just emotional people, especially people who are left of center,’ ” Tshibaka said, quoting her field director Heather Gottshall.
The video drew angry reaction on social media, with commenters calling Tshibaka “creepy,” “patronizing,” “weird,” and “fake.”
Tshibaka campaign adviser Tim Murtaugh declined to comment on Tshibaka’s remarks.
— Iris Samuels