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Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin addresses supporters during a campaign event in Anchorage, Alaska on Jun. 2.Mark Thiessen / AP

Rare open congressional seat leads to Alaska gold rush of candidates

Former Gov. Sarah Palin is among the candidates running in the special election primary on Saturday.


Longtime Alaska GOP Rep. Don Young’s death in March sparked a very crowded special primary election on Saturday to represent the entire state in the House.

In all, there are a whopping 48 candidates competing under the state’s new election system to serve out the remainder of Young’s term. The field includes 16 Republicans, six Democrats, 12 nonpartisans, 10 undeclared, two independents and two libertarians.

One of those candidates is Republican Sarah Palin, the former governor whom Donald Trump has endorsed; Republican Nick Begich III, the grandson of the late Democratic Rep. Nick Begich who has the Alaska GOP’s endorsement; and surgeon Al Gross, the nonpartisan former Senate candidate. Begich had filed to challenge Young, who represented the entire state for 49 years in the House, before his death.

Those three have been the top fundraisers in the race. Four other candidates have raised over $100,000, including Republicans Tara Sweeney, an Alaska Native woman who served as assistant secretary for Indian Affairs and was Young’s campaign co-chair, and state Sen. Josh Revak, a former Young staffer and Army veteran who has been endorsed by Young’s widow. 

Democratic Assemblyman Chris Constant and attorney and gardening columnist Jeff Lowenfels, a nonpartisan candidate, are also among the top fundraisers. The long list of candidates even includes someone named Santa Claus, who is not affiliated with any party. 

Ballots for the special primary election, which is being conducted entirely by mail, must be returned by Saturday. It’s also the first test of the state’s new Top 4 and ranked choice voting system. Under the system, candidates from all parties compete on the same ballot and the Top 4 vote-getters — regardless of party — advance to the general election. 

That general election is set for Aug. 16, and that’s when voters rank up to four candidates and a write-in candidate. If none of the first-choice candidates wins a majority of the vote, the last place candidate is eliminated, and their supporters’ second-choice votes are distributed to the remaining candidates. The process continues until a candidate wins a majority of the votes, or until two candidates are left, and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Alaska voters approved the new system via a 2020 ballot initiative. Its proponents say it will produce less extreme lawmakers.

“Rather than just target their base, or the members of one party, candidates will have to engage in the free market of ideas and try to reach every Alaskan,” wrote Scott Kendall, who served as former independent Gov. Bill Walker’s chief of staff and led the ballot initiative effort. “The winner’s reward will be the ability to vote their conscience — and Alaska’s best interests — rather than the party line,” Kendall added. 

The race for a full term beginning next year is also crowded, with 31 candidates running. All of the top fundraising candidates — Palin, Begich, Gross, Sweeney, Revak, Constant and Lowenfels — are also running for a full term.