All along — long before Palin was on board — Begich had encouraged his supporters to mark Palin second on their ballots. But he also cast Palin as a “quitter” unable to beat Peltola. And in his effort to pit his candidacy against hers, he was not above provocation. He handed out Palin-branded buttons that read, “Another hockey mom for Nick Begich.
In the parking lot of the restaurant where the Republicans met, Aaron Coman, the owner of a hit music station in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, shook his head at the animosity between the two Republicans. He said he personally appealed to Palin and Begich’s campaigns to “stop fighting.”
“If you keep bumping into each other, we’re going to get another win from Mary Peltola,” he said. “And that’s a fact.”
But when I asked him if he was convinced that the result would be different in November, he replied: “No”.
Normally, a party goes through a primary, shoots each other, and then coalesces around a candidate. But in Alaska, where ranked-choice voting has everyone still fighting each other, “what it really does is divide Republicans, in goodwill and also votes,” a said Kathy McCollum, president of the Mat-Su Republican Women’s Club, which hosted the event where Brown spoke.
She said, “It really caused a lot of grief.”
If Alaska’s electoral system is unusual, the campaign issues and logistics here are also different.
One recent morning, Begich and Murkowski, crammed onto the same Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to the town of Kodiak, located on an island about 30 miles off the coast where, despite the pilot’s warning that the wrong weather might force them to turn back, they landed in the pouring rain to attend, along with Palin and Peltola, a series of fishing-focused candidate debates. (On the flight home, Begich and Murkowski argued and Peltola sat across from them: “I’m inside, Nick,” Murkowski said as she boarded.)
In a high school auditorium, House candidates answered questions about bycatch, dwindling salmon populations and the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs fishing in federal waters, and to find out s they had fished commercially before, what type of white fish is their favorite and “How often do you eat seafood?”
“I would say I eat seafood about four or five times a week,” Peltola said. “And if I don’t eat seafood, I eat moose meat.”
Murkowski, after disembarking at Kodiak, told me that ranked ballot had introduced a “newfound freedom for individuals to be freed from the construct that parties had put in place.” For Murkowski, a pro-abortion Republican who backed Trump’s second impeachment, it was support from moderates, independents and cross-Democrats that kept her in the Senate — and will keep her there if she can defeat a Trump-backed challenger Kelly Tshibaka in November.
Preferential choice voting, Murkowski said, has “boosted the independence that I think is just inherent in Alaskans.”
It’s also the house run reading in Alaska in much of the lower 48. For them, the Republicans’ failure to hold the Alaskan seat is everything about ranking voting – or the strangeness of the vast and sparsely populated 49e State.
“Alaska is a special, different animal up there,” said veteran Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin. “I think about it a lot, it’s personality driven in a place like that.”
But Alaska isn’t the only state where personality politics is being tested in the GOP, and it’s possible that the difficulties Republicans are having here are less outlier than an early indication of a specific problem for the GOP. party in states where Republicans have nominated candidates as polarizing as Palin — and where independents are keeping Democrats afloat.
Republicans are still expected to win the House in November. But the large number of voters unaffiliated with either party in Alaska — about 58% — could also tell the GOP something about its future in more competitive states. The proportion of people nationwide who identify as independent has grown in recent decades, according to Gallup, now representing about 43% of American adults. That may not be a problem for Republicans in general in November. In a New York Times/Siena College poll that ricocheted through Democratic Party circles this week, independents beat Republicans by a 10 percentage point margin over Democrats in the generic Congressional ballot.
But the vote is mixed. A recent CBS News/YouGov survey showed that independents favor Democrats over Republicans in congressional elections by a narrow margin. President Joe Biden’s approval rating — a metric closely tied to a party’s midterm performance — is still dismal with independent voters, at 39%, according to an NPR/Marist poll released earlier this month. this. Still, that’s a dramatic improvement from July, when his approval rating among independents was 11 percentage points lower.
where the republicans do appear vulnerable with independents are places where the party is fielding candidates like Trump, who carried the independents by 6 percentage points in 2016, according to exit polls, before losing them to Biden by 13 points percentage four years later. There are plenty of similar hardliners running this year, including in Alaska, where independents are much more likely to view Peltola favorably than Palin: the Democrat is 26 percentage points ahead of Palin with independents ranking at least one of them, according to a recent survey.
And in other states where Republicans have named Trumpian flag bearers, it’s a similar story. It’s one of the reasons Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan is making a competitive run for the Senate in Republican-dense Ohio, where a Marist poll last month lifted Ryan 2 percentage points from the Republican JD Vance with independents. In the Georgia Senate race, Republican Herschel Walker is 15 percentage points behind Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock among independents, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, while incumbent Governor Brian Kemp, a more traditional Republican , fares much better. In Pennsylvania, Republican Mehmet Oz is also down double digits among independents.
Those numbers could shift to Republicans as Election Day approaches and partisan leanings will solidify. But between moderate Republicans defecting from Trumpian Republicans like Palin and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade — just as much of an issue in Alaska as anywhere else, with polls suggesting a majority of Alaskans support abortion rights — the most polarizing Republicans, like Palin, have reason to worry.