Palin, a former governor and unique political sensation, had attached herself to Trump in a reliable red state, with an equally fervent base of support. But his race, more than any primary this year, had come closer to a traditional general election where a candidate is rewarded for appealing to a wide range of voters.
His loss was the strongest evidence so far this year that at least some Republicans may be discouraged enough to vote the other way midterm and potentially beyond.
Palin, said Cynthia Henry, a Republican National Committee member from Alaska, “is a bit of a lightning rod.” While some conservatives “strongly support her”, there are others who “really don’t support her at all”.
The expectation of many Republicans in Alaska was that in an age of super polarized politics, partisan leanings would outweigh any reservations a voter might have about either Republican on the ballot. vote, leading them to rank a Republican first and second. In a state Trump gained by about 10 percentage points in 2020, that would likely have been enough to keep Mary Peltola, the Democrat who ultimately won, from going through.
Instead, a portion of Begich voters — about 29% — chose the Democrat as their second choice.
“I think a lot of us thought that having two Republicans in the race wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and that…whoever came in third, their votes would go to the other Republican,” Henry said. . “But it wasn’t.”
The problem for the GOP is that Palin is far from the only lightning rod on the ballot this fall. In swing states like Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan, pro-Trump Republicans who beat the most pro-establishment Republicans in the primaries will now face a general election electorate who berated Trump in 2020. .
Of the coalition Palin has assembled, said David Pruhs, who has a radio show in Fairbanks and is running for mayor there, “it’s not enough.”
Not all Republicans running nationally in November are burdened with Palin’s responsibilities. One of the GOP’s earliest populists, she saw her reputation dwindle after her 2008 vice-presidential run and her 2009 resignation from the governorship.
When longtime Alaska pollster Ivan Moore of Alaska Survey Research polled Palin’s position with Alaskans in July, his the favorability score was 31%. Republicans should have seen then, he said, that “she was about to be ineligible.”
Instead, some Republicans in the wake of this week’s election have largely blamed the state’s ranked ballot, a system that Ralph Seekins, a former state senator who serves on the University of Alaska, called it “screwed up”.
“I don’t know if it’s a reflection on Sarah or Nick,” he said. “It’s just that this system is very confusing and a lot of people didn’t know how to vote or what to do.”
Voters may not have fully understood the implications of their second-choice vote, Henry said, adding that the priority vote “skews the outcome somewhat.” The special election to replace late GOP Rep. Don Young will be repeated in the general election this fall, when Palin and her opponents run for a full two-year term. Conservatives may approach voting differently in this election after seeing Peltola’s victory in this one.
On election night, Palin sounded exasperated, saying Begich, who received fewer first-choice votes than her, should “exit the race and allow the winner to take it all as it should be.Begich, meanwhile, held up the election as evidence of Palin’s inability to win in November.
“I think this election was really a referendum on Sarah Palin herself – her brand, her personality,” he said in an interview.
Even in the GOP’s broader frustration with the system, there was blame reserved for Palin.
The Alaska Republican Party, which opposed the 2020 ballot measure that installed preferential voting in the state, ran a ‘Rate the Red’ campaign in Alaska in an effort to ensure that voters chose Republicans as both first and second choices.
Begich, who had the state GOP endorsementurged his supporters to “rank red” as well, and said he ranked Palin second on his own ballot.
Palin, meanwhile, said after the election: “I was telling people all along, don’t conform.”
“The thing is, Nick encouraged his parents to vote for Palin second, like he did, and Palin didn’t, and I think that says a lot about her,” Jim Minnery said, executive director of the conservative Alaska Family Council, which the organization did not endorse in the race. “Leave it there.”
Sean Walsh, a Republican strategist who worked in the Reagan and George HW Bush White Houses, said Palin’s loss in the special holds lessons for Republicans across the country.
“Unfortunately, I fear that will be the canary in the coal mine of this election,” Walsh said. “You have to appeal 50% plus one vote in every race in every state you race in… I don’t think Trump right now is bringing you 50% plus one.”