Peltola Jumps Out To Early Lead As Counting Continues

With about 75 percent of the vote in, Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) leads with 47 percent of the vote in the ranked choice contest for Alaska’s sole congressional seat.

When she won the same seat for a partial term, she had 40 percent of the vote after round one, and went on to beat the same opponents: Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich.

There are more ballots to be counted, and Peltola needs to surpass 50 percent to win. Remember, counting in Alaska is slow: It took a full two weeks for Peltola to be named winner of the August election.

Her full-term run has been interesting for a few reasons: that the election is among the earliest in the state conducted by ranked choice voting, that she’s coming into it having just won the rest of the late Rep. Don Young’s (R-AK) term in the seat and that — well, she seems to be utterly beloved. There’s just no other way to describe a woman who attracts such copious praise and support from both Democrats and Republicans, including Republicans as different as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Palin.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Murkowski admitted to reporters that she plans to rank Pelotola first on her ballot, adding sheepishly: “I’m going to get in so much trouble.” Peltola reacted cheerfully, saying “I’m voting for her, so we’re even-steven.” Palin, who is running directly against Peltola, has publicly affirmed how fond of her she is, and has spoken about her Democratic opponent much more warmly than she has Begich.

Peltola is an unusual figure in other ways too. She already made history as the first Alaska native in Congress. She was endorsed by Young’s daughters, despite their father’s opposing party membership, and Peltola appeared to wear Young’s beaded bolo tie one of them gave her at a recent debate. She also hired some of Young’s staffers, sending a frisson through a congressional environment where the two parties are more at odds than ever before.  

In all, this race is about as Alaska as it gets: Genuine bipartisanship and aisle crossing, a sense of solidarity among those who represent or work for the far-flung state, even Peltola’s campaign centering on “fish, freedom and family.” It’s been a happy prospect for Democrats, with Peltola’s surprising strength turning a Republican lock into a prime opportunity to keep the decades-long red seat blue.

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