Democrat Mary Peltola, first Alaska Native in Congress, defeats Sarah Palin to win full term
Rep. Mary Peltola has been elected to a full term in the U.S. House, months after the Alaska Democrat won a special election to the seat following the death earlier this year of longtime Republican Rep. Don Young.
Peltola defeated Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich and Libertarian Chris Bye in the Nov. 8 election. Results of the ranked-choice election were announced Wednesday. Palin and Begich also were candidates in the special election.
Peltola, who is Yup’ik, became the first Alaska Native in Congress and the first woman to hold Alaska’s House seat when she won in August. The win also buoyed her fundraising, outpacing that of her rivals in the lead-up to this month’s election.
Peltola embraced Young’s legacy as she sought the two-year term, and was endorsed by his daughters, one of whom presented her with a bolo tie of Young’s at an Alaska Federation of Natives conference, where Peltola was treated like a rock star. Young held the seat for 49 years.
“Now I’m a real congressman for all Alaska,” she said. Young often referred to himself that way. Peltola has described his legacy as one of bipartisanship and building support for Alaska‘s interests in Congress.
Peltola, who was a state lawmaker from the small rural hub community of Bethel for 10 years, ending in 2009, surprised many with her fourth-place finish in June‘s special primary, in which she emerged from a field of 48 candidates that included current state and local-level officeholders. That finish was enough to send her to the special election.
Voters deciding to split their tickets or buck their party altogether may have helped Democrats mount a stronger-than-expected performance.
During the campaign, she cast herself as a coalition builder, emphasized a desire for more civility in politics, and sought to stay out of the sniping between Palin and Begich.
Peltola, who most recently worked for a commission whose goal is to rebuild salmon in Alaska’s Kuskokwim River, raised concerns in the campaign about ocean productivity, and cited a need to preserve struggling fisheries.
She also emphasized her support for abortion rights.
In an October speech, she talked about the need for unity and lamented what she said had become pervasive messages in politics “about hate and fear and self-pity.”
“And yes, those resonate, those are compelling motivators,” she continued. “But they’re destructive, they’re acidic, they tear us down.”
She said her priorities for the new term included “getting our inflation rates down, our shipping costs down — getting costs down for working families and all Alaskan households.”
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