U.S. House candidates headline annual convention of Alaska GOP

The Alaska Republican Party signaled during its annual convention on Friday and Saturday that it would not formally pick favorites among the Republicans running for U.S. House.

Two Republican candidates are currently running to unseat Rep. Mary Peltola, who has served as Alaska’s lone representative in the U.S. House since 2022. The filing deadline for the race is June 1.

The Republican candidates are Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom, who entered the race in November with backing from national GOP leaders, and businessman Nick Begich, who announced he would run again last year after losing twice to Peltola in 2022.

Alaska Republican Party leaders had a unified message during their state convention: “rank the red.”

“You can support Nick Begich 100%. You can support Nancy Dahlstrom 100%. Just make sure that if both of them make it onto the general ballot, that you vote for the other one second,” said outgoing Party Chair Ann Brown.

This year will be the second election cycle in which Alaska uses ranked choice voting in its statewide races. That means that both Dahlstrom and Begich are expected to advance to the general election when the open, nonpartisan primary election is held in August. The top four vote getters in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, will compete in a ranked general election in November.

Brown said the U.S. House race was “the most important statewide race for Alaska, now and into the future.” Peltola’s “first reelection is our best chance to take our at-large congressional seat back,” Brown told convention delegates.


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“Rank the red” is an Alaska Republican Party strategy first used — unsuccessfully — in the 2022 House races. An August 2022 special election to replace former Rep. Don Young, who died earlier that year, featured a three-way race between Peltola, Begich, and former Gov. Sarah Palin. Peltola came away with the victory after Palin and Begich supporters did not rank the other Republican candidate in the race in sufficient numbers. Palin and Begich spent much of the campaign attacking each other.

“This is not the time for intra-party bickering and nitpicking about one or the other Republican congressional candidates. If Republican voters had done as the party advocated in 2022 and voted for Begich one and Palin two or vice versa, Mary Peltola would not be in D.C. playing Princess Leia of the U.S. House today,” said Brown.

While the party did not formally endorse a candidate, there were signs that at least among the party faithful, Begich had an early advantage over Dahlstrom. He was greeted with a standing ovation before he began a Saturday afternoon speech, with delegates waiving campaign signs and wearing Begich-branded hats as he spoke. Begich also received more than double the stage time as Dahlstrom — with over 40 minutes of prepared remarks and audience question for Begich compared to Dahlstrom’s 20 minutes on Friday evening.

Dahlstrom’s comments were preceded by a video introduction from the U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, who said “winning Alaska is our top priority.”

“The person to flip this seat is Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom,” Johnson said. That assertion has been backed with some national GOP funding flowing to Dahlstrom’s campaign, though both Republicans are lagging far behind Peltola in contributions.

Dahlstrom said “the most critical issue” she sought to address in Congress was border security.

On Saturday, Peltola voted in favor of a border security legislation package in the U.S. House — one of only five Democrats to join Republicans in voting in favor of it.

“No one can deny we face an ongoing crisis at our Southern border,” Peltola said in a prepared statement, adding that she voted in favor of the measure to address Alaska’s fentanyl crisis.

“Though no legislation is perfect, I have an obligation to protect Alaskans and secure our borders,” Peltola said, adding that she will “press” her colleagues in the House to take up a bipartisan border security bill that the Senate passed but that the House has so far declined to take up. Neither Dahlstrom nor Begich said they would support the legislation during their remarks on Friday and Saturday.

Dahlstrom’s speech hewed closely to Republican national priorities. She called for a “remain in Mexico” policy, adding resources for border patrol, and “permanent physical barriers” at the border. Dahlstrom also said the U.S. “must have laws that protect the victim, not the criminal.” She criticized Biden’s foreign policy, and said she would promote tax cuts.

Begich’s comments were much more Alaska-specific. He spoke in favor of an Alaska gasline to reduce Alaska’s energy prices; dismissed environmental concerns about resource extraction in the Arctic; called for new federal roads to be built in Alaska; spoke in favor of book bans and limiting transgender athletes in women’s sports; and cited what he said was the cost of sending a 12-pack of soda from Anchorage to the North Slope: “10 bucks in shipping alone.”

Both Begich and Dahlstrom have endorsed former President Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential bid. There was no mention of Trump’s ongoing criminal trial during the convention proceedings — though bedazzled Trump paraphernalia and a larger-than-life image of him greeted convention-goers in the hallway.

In the absence of Alaska’s statewide Republican elected officials — Gov. Mike Dunleavy and U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan did not attend the convention — the two U.S. House candidates drew much of the attention in the two day event.

Some members of the party sought to have Dahlstrom and Begich commit that if either of them came in third place in the primary, they would drop out to increase the odds that the more popular Republican can win with limited intra-party competition.

If a candidate drops out of the race shortly after the primary, their name will be replaced on the general election ballot by the Division of Election with the fifth-place finisher in the primary.

Dahlstrom said that if she came in behind Begich and Peltola in the primary election, she would call a meeting with Begich and the chair of the Republican Party.


“Let’s look at the numbers and run the numbers and say, ‘what does it take to get a Republican in Congress?’” she said. However, Dahlstrom repeated the call for voters to rank both her and Begich on the general election ballot.

“If you will support me, it’s fantastic, and I am begging you to vote for Nick number two, and if you’re a Nick person — fantastic. Please vote for me number two. That way we will have — we will — it guarantees us a Republican in our congressional seat,” she said.

Begich did not mention Dahlstrom a single time during his 45 minutes on stage.

Ranked choice voting

Supporters of Alaska’s voting system, which was adopted by ballot initiative in 2020, have long said that Peltola’s victory was not a bug, but a feature of a voting method that is meant to encourage consensus-building.

Many Republicans don’t view it that way. Party leaders said they hoped the system would be repealed. A ballot group has sought to put the question of returning to Alaska’s closed partisan primaries and pick-one general elections on the November ballot.

“Ranked choice voting is a disaster,” said Republican former Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell. “It’s a crapshoot. It’s a game.”

Campbell and other GOP state leaders said they will support the ballot initiative to reinstate the pre-2022 voting system. Closed primaries gave the party outsize power in choosing which candidates would appear on the general election ballot. Only registered Republicans or nonpartisan voters could participate in the GOP primary.

“We want a primary that’s closed and we choose our Republican candidate who then runs against the Democrat candidate,” said national committeewoman Cynthia Henry.


The backers of the ballot initiative to repeal ranked choice voting have faced allegations related to campaign finance law violations. On Thursday, a new anti-ranked choice voting ballot group registered with the state. The group, called “Yes on 2,” handed out fliers at the convention, and its leader — Mikaela Emswiler, was in attendance at the convention. Emswiler previously worked to collect signatures for the ballot initiative.

The group stated on its flier that Alaska’s voting system is “dangerous” because it takes away the party’s ability to “screen candidates” and allows candidates to run “without vetting.”

Early voting

Party leaders tried to sell Republicans on early and by-mail voting, methods that have long been used by many Alaska voters but have been widely shunned by Trump, leading to skepticism among some of his supporters. Alaska is just one of several states where Republican leaders are playing catch-up with Democrats on pre-Election Day voting.

Campbell, the former lieutenant governor, told convention delegates “the election is almost done” by Election Day, when most Republicans cast their ballots, and that Democratic campaigns have more effectively encouraged voters to cast their ballots early.

“One of the biggest problems we’ve had is being beaten by Democrats who take a system, use it within the law, but manipulate it against us,” said Campbell.

Campbell presented findings by an elections-related committee convened by the state party. He said Republicans should “look at ballot harvesting,” referring to the practice of ensuring that by-mail ballots are filled out and submitted before Election Day. He also said the party should have poll watchers and ensure that ballot drop boxes are located in areas with a high concentration of conservative voters.

“Republicans like to vote on Election Day, but things come up,” said Henry, the GOP committeewoman. “There are a lot of people with kids and jobs and car trouble and they say, ‘I didn’t vote.’”

“We just have to put on a new fresh face about early voting,” Henry added.

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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 AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.