In the next few months, the state of Alaska is going to have an outsized role in the political life of the US. Alaska will elect the first non-Don Young House member since 1973 in an August special election and Lisa Murkowski faces her re-election bid in November to her Senate seat. Those two results will tell us a lot about the future of the GOP and the future of any bipartisan negotiations in the Senate.
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Alaska House Election Odds
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Alaska House Election Analysis
This race is a battle of Alaskan political royalty. Former Governor and 2008 Vice-Presidential GOP Sarah Palin trying to make a political comeback against the son of a former Democratic Senator in Nick Begich. Both are running as Republicans in the three-person, ranked-choice voting race.
Democrats do have a candidate in Mary Peltola, who will probably come in first on the first ballot, but has almost no chance of actually winning. An Ivan Moore Research poll shows how this works– Peltola gets 41% of the vote on the first ballot and loses 43%-57% in the second round.
Whichever of Begich and Palin comes in second will win this seat because there will be a tight flow of preferences from the two GOP candidates. With the Democratic vote consolidated into one candidate, they will come first on the first ballot. But that won’t be enough so long as the voters who choose the losing Republican actually rank another choice (This will be very important in the Senate race).
Democrats lost this state by 10% in 2020. While it’s trending left as Democrats do better in Anchorage than in the past, the idea that Peltola will actually have anything resembling a chance isn’t worth interrogating any more.
Is Sarah Palin overvalued?
A theoretical poll showed Peltola beating Palin, but polls in Alaska usually overstate Democrats. In that same poll, she loses handily to Begich.
What is worth asking is why Palin is seen as a favourite in this market, given that poll had her disapproval at 60%. She’s third in the only credible poll of the race. For someone who has been away from the battlefield as long as she has, it’s not likely that she’ll have some elite ground machine to get out the vote. That matters more than usual in a state as geographically large and with so few people as Alaska.
Begich is the candidate of the Alaska GOP and he is the candidate likeliest to have an established ground game. He’s in second in the only poll of the race and easily beats Peltola in the head to head and he should be the favourite.
People, frankly, are betting Palin because she’s the name people have heard of. There’s a dearth of firm data in Alaska outside of the primary, where she came first overall. That said, it doesn’t matter – Begich is likely to get ahead of her and use her voters’ preferences to slingshot into first place.
Alaska Senate Election Odds
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Alaska Senatorial Election Analysis
Remember when I said that whether or not voters rank their second choices is really going to matter in the Senate race? It’s the whole ballgame right here.
That same Ivan Moore poll also polled the Senate question, where Lisa Murkowski is being primaried (in a matter of speaking) from her right. In 2010, she was successfully primaried by Joe Miller, who then lost to Murkowski in the General after Murkowski ran a write-in campaign to win in the General. In 2016, Miller ran as the Libertarian nominee and got 30% while Democrats ran a paper candidate and most of Hillary Clinton’s voters voted for Murkowski.
Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system makes it easy for Murkowski to win again because Democrats can vote for the Democrat on the ballot and then vote for Murkowski second, meaning she gets above her right-wing challenger.
That poll had Murkowski at 35% and her right-wing challenger at 43%, with the rest split between a Democrat and an Alaska Independence candidate. In that poll, 73% of those who had the Democrat as their choice at the end of Round 2 gave a preference to Murkowski. 7% gave a preference to Kelly Tshibaka, the Trump-endorsed candidate of the Alaskan right, putting Murkowski barely ahead.
The problem with Lisa Murkowski
Murkowski’s become a candidate for nobody in the last six years. She voted for Amy Coney Barrett, the Trump tax cuts, and to block the Women’s Health Protection Act (also known as the effort to codify Roe v Wade into law). She also voted against Brett Kavanaugh, the 2017 GOP effort to repeal Obamacare, and for the bipartisan gun and infrastructure bills.
This is the voting record of a genuine moderate, in that it is ideologically inconsistent and at times flat out incoherent; it’s left her with enemies on both sides. Given that she’s in a race where voters have the choice– but not the obligation– to rank candidates, she needs to actively campaign for Democratic preferences. And every time she does so, she bleeds with her right flank.
If she pivots right and emphasizes her pro-state rights views on abortion and all the Biden legislation she’s voted against, Democrats will see her as no better than Tshibaka. Either their preferences will split, or the number of voters who don’t vote for either candidate will rise.
The idea that she’s favoured comes from a flawed understanding of the actual mechanics of a ranked choice voting election. In New South Wales’ (Australia) 2019 state election– where voters also may or may not rank multiple candidates– only two seats saw the candidates in second place after first preferences win (of the 43 seats where no candidate got a majority of first preferences).
Murkowski has the ire of the former President, who just went to Alaska to publicly shout the virtues of her opponent to the voters she needs to win. It’s a very difficult needle to threat, and frankly nobody has thought through this race holistically.
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