Both Republicans in the Nov. 8 general-election race to succeed the late Rep. Don Young declined to drop out of the race Monday — the last day they could do so — setting up a possible repeat of the heated special-election contest which Democrat Mary Peltola won amid recriminations within the Alaska GOP.
Former Gov. Sarah Palin made her announcement during an abrupt Labor Day press conference, which sent reporters scrambling to her backyard on the shores of Lake Lucille in Wasilla. The circumstances were similar to a key political milestone in her life, her 2009 resignation as Alaska governor in the wake of a failed vice-presidential bid alongside GOP running mate John McCain.
In a lengthy and rambling address, Palin blamed the media for spreading the “lie” that she left Alaska after her resignation as governor, while reiterating her complaints against fellow Republican Nick Begich III over the bitter GOP infighting which dominated the special election. Rather than heeding Begich’s calls for her to withdraw, she instead urged Alaskans to unite behind her candidacy in the name of Republican unity.
“Today I’m calling on negative Nick Begich to get out of this race,” Palin said. “He does not represent the depths of Alaska. He represents the good ol’ boys network, the establishment and yes, the liberals, the liberals in the Democrat Party. Only a Democrat sympathizer would selfishly stay in this race, after getting thumped three times, three times in a row by his GOP opponent, just to enable a Democrat to hold the Alaskan people seat in the United States House of Representatives.”
Peltola became the first Alaska Native elected to Congress Wednesday after winning the state’s first ranked-choice election held on Aug. 16, with 51.5% of second-round votes over Palin’s 48.5%. Her victory came amid negative campaigning between Palin and Begich, with only half of voters who ranked Begich first ranking Palin second – and nearly a third ranking Peltola over Palin.
Palin had responded to the second-round results, announced Wednesday and finalized Friday, by calling for Begich to drop out of the race.
Begich said Monday that he was staying in the race. In a statement he said that the special election results show “Palin simply doesn’t have enough support from Alaskans to win an election and her performance in the Special was embarrassing as a former Governor and Vice Presidential candidate.” He also said polls commissioned by his campaign show that “Alaskans are looking for a less polarizing alternative to Mary Peltola.”
“As I have introduced myself to Alaskans, I have steadily increased my percentage of the vote since the June 11 Special Primary election,” Begich said. “I will continue traveling the state, making the case that this election is about a choice between Mary Peltola and Nick Begich. We are confident that we are on a positive trajectory to win in November.”
Alaska Public Media reporter Liz Ruskin contributed to this story from Wasilla.