Sarah Palin loses comeback bid in Alaska upset to Democrat

Democrat Mary Peltola at a election night party
Democrat Mary Peltola

Sarah Palin has lost a special congressional election in Alaska, in a district that was Republican-held for nearly five decades.

The winner, Democrat Mary Peltola, will be the first Alaskan Native to serve as a lawmaker in Congress for the state. The race was to fill a vacancy left after the former officeholder died, the seat is up for grabs again in November.

Former Alaska governor Ms Palin, 58, rose to prominence as a vice-presidential candidate in 2008.

Ms Peltola, 49, was declared the winner on Wednesday by three percentage points in a state that ex-President Donald Trump took by 10 points in 2020. The former state lawmaker advocated for abortion access, climate action and the state’s salmon populations.

Ms Palin, who was endorsed by Mr Trump, outspent her Democratic rival by four to one in the run-up to the 16 August election, according to Politico.

    Ms Peltola ran against two Republicans in the state’s first ranked-choice election, a system that was criticised by Ms Palin during the race as confusing and unfair.

    The Democrat, who is Yup’ik and grew up in a rural part of Alaska, will also become the first woman to hold the seat. It had previously been held since 1973 by the late Republican Don Young.

    Palin giving a speech

    Ms Palin served as the vice-presidential running mate to Arizona Senator John McCain in 2008, who went on to become a vocal Republican critic of Mr Trump. She was also governor of Alaska between 2006-09.

    While political analysts will search for clues in this special election as to how both main parties may fare in the US midterm elections this November, it is not clear to what degree Ms Palin’s big personality was a factor in the outcome.

    Her brand of combative conservatism and anti-establishment appeal led many to consider her as the political precursor to Mr Trump.

    But some voters questioned her commitment to the state, citing her resignation as governor only partway through her term.

    She went on to star on reality TV shows, and launched a high-profile libel lawsuit against the New York Times, which she lost earlier this year.

    Ms Peltola served in the statehouse for a decade – and overlapped with Ms Palin during her time there. The two say they bonded in the Capitol since they were both pregnant at the time.

    When Ms Palin left Juneau to hit the campaign trail with McCain, she gave her backyard trampoline to Ms Peltola.

    According to Alaska Public Media, Ms Palin- normally a fierce critic of Democrats – recently referred to her rival as a “sweetheart”.

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