JUNE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska voters face an election like they’ve never seen before, with 48 candidates running to replace the man who held the sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for 49 years .
While some of the candidates in this week’s special primaries are known for their name, including Sarah Palin and Santa Claus—yes, Santa Claus—many are relative unknowns or political novices—a fishing guide, a contractor, a prospector who went to jail for to reportedly threaten federal land managers.
The sheer number of candidates and the short election timeline following the death of Republican US Representative Don Young on March 18 has overwhelmed some voters and rushed to learn more about their options. These will be the first elections under a voter-approved system in 2020 that will end party primaries, meaning all candidates will be on the same one-page ballot.
The four candidates who win the most votes will advance to a special election in August, using ranking choice voting. The winner of that match will serve the remainder of Young’s term, which ends in January. A separate series of elections later this year will decide who has a two-year term from January.
Max Sumner, a Wasilla prime contractor running for the seat as a Republican, said he takes his bid as seriously as anyone who knows they won’t win. He said he was interested in being part of the “first experiment” under the new electoral process and saying that he had run for Congress.
“I do not agree that the government is run by career politicians. I think it should be like a few terms and you’re out,” he said.
He said he voted for himself and asked others to do so, but is not campaigning. He said he is also running for another Republican in the race, Josh Revak, a state senator who co-chaired Young’s reelection campaign and was supported by Young’s widow.
In all, there are 16 Republican candidates, including Palin, a former governor of Alaska; Nick Begich, a businessman from a political family of prominent Democrats; former state legislator John Coghill; and Tara Sweeney, who also co-chaired Young’s campaign and was supported by a group representing leaders of the state’s influential Alaska Native regional corporations.
Nearly half of the candidates, 22, are independents. That includes Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who ran for Senate in 2020 with backing from the Democratic state party, and a self-proclaimed “independent, progressive, Democratic socialist” whose official name is Santa Claus and who serves on the Arctic Community Council’s City Council. .
Gross angered some Democrats when, in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News, he did not promise to negotiate with Democrats if elected. He has since said he would. The Alaska Democratic Party has urged voters to choose from one of the six Democrats running.
The closest a Democrat came to defeating Young in the past 20 years was in 2008, when Young won 50% of the vote and Ethan Berkowitz 45%.
“Alaskans tend to vote for the status quo, measure viability, vote for the devil, you know, and I really think under this new system, especially with ranked choice votes, we have a chance to do that.” dynamics,” said Lindsay Kavanaugh, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party.
Revak has released a video saying he is “waging a war against Santa Claus” and his “Marxist fantasies”. Revak’s campaign said the video was meant to be lighthearted, but Claus said he wasn’t acting as a joke.
“I’m 75 and I want to spend my time and energy wisely,” Claus said.
Claus’ candidacy and especially his support for abortion rights caught the attention of voter Sandi Hicks, a Juneau independent. She asked for advice on a community Facebook page last month about where to find information about candidates. Commentators shared links to news sites, including one that posted surveys of candidates.
Others on her short list are Gross; Democrat Mary Peltola, a former legislator; and independent Jeff Lowenfels, a gardening expert with a legal background, including as a former Assistant Attorney General.
“I feel like I’m more comfortable, you know, instead of 48 people, I’ve only got three or four people left,” Hicks said.
About 100,000 ballots have already been returned in what is mainly a postal election. That’s more than the 88,817 cast in the 2016 regular primaries, when turnout was just 17%. It is a mystery how many of the ballots sent to registered voters will be returned.
There are opportunities to vote in person or early in about 165 communities, many of which are in rural areas, where postal service can be erratic. The state division of elections and advocacy groups have worked to educate voters about the new electoral process, reminding them that they are only picking one candidate this round.
The division’s online candidate list contains contact information and links to candidate websites for those who have them. One candidate, Republican John T. Callahan, has a website with simply a quote often attributed to Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman: “If I’m nominated, I won’t run. If I am elected, I will not serve.”
Libertarian Chris Bye said his candidacy started with him and others complaining about Congress and challenging each other to run for office. He decided to go for it. He is one of the few candidates, including Begich and Democrat Christopher Constant, to run for House before Young’s death.
Dag, who said he quit his army job to run, calls himself a “normal guy.” He said he works in retail and as a fishing guide and Congress needs people like him.
“I believe typical Alaskans can make better decisions than groomed or professional politicians, period,” he said.
Coghill, whose late father was heavily involved in Alaskan politics, said he is “sorry” that there are so many candidates “because it makes it more confusing (in) a very confusing election.”
Brand awareness in this race is important, he said.
“My name is at least recognized, sometimes highly respected, sometimes not so well — but at least known,” Coghill said.
Adam Wool, a state legislator running as a Democrat, said the election reminds him of Britain’s online poll years ago asking what the country’s new polar research vessel should be called. The Runaway Winning Suggestion: Boaty McBoatface.
“This election has a little bit of that, with a bunch of people we don’t know and people with funny names and famous candidates, like Sarah Palin,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want the election to become one where people make choices. for ‘shock value’.
“I don’t want (voters) Boaty McBoat to face the Alaska election,” he said.