Is Sarah Palin in trouble in the Alaska primary?


I’m not psychologically prepared for Palin to land in the House next year and end up as a voice of wisdom and moderation relative to the Marjorie Taylor Greene wing of the caucus.

Palin may be MAGA but I don’t know that she’s Ultra MAGA.

Polls of Alaska tend to be hot garbage but we should flag this one, if only as a reminder of how novel the state’s election this year will be. Alaska is using a ranked-choice “jungle primary” in which candidates from both parties are all on the same ballot. The top four finishers in that vote will advance to a general election a few months later. Palin’s great advantage is her universal name recognition, which is why she’s expected to make it to the general. (She’s not the best known candidate in the race, however. One of the other contenders changed his legal name to, I kid you not, “Santa Claus.”) Her great liability is that she’s perceived by many Alaskans as a quitter whose fame went to her head and led to her spend too much time outside the state.

According to Alaska Survey Research, when all the ranked-choice ballots are counted, she won’t even make the final two.

ARS assumed that she, Republican Nick Begich, and Democratic-backed independent Al Gross would all finish in the top four in the first round of the primary. Then they tested four different general election match-ups involving four different potential fourth-place finishers:

Palin ends up topping out at 28-29 percent and being bounced in the second round of each ranked-choice vote. Not coincidentally, the last time ARS checked her favorable rating in Alaska, they found it to be 31/56. A separate poll taken last month in Alaska found Palin taking — you guessed it — 31 percent of the first-round vote against Begich and Gross.

In a first-past-the-post primary, where the person with the highest share of the vote wins, she’d be a solid bet. But in a ranked-choice election, she’ll need to amass more than 50 percent in the final round of the vote to prevail. Can a figure as unpopular as her manage that head-to-head against Begich or Gross?

Here’s Begich’s new ad, by the way. You think he crafted this message with anyone particular in mind?

Resigning as governor of Alaska was never a big deal to Palin’s national conservative fan base, who continued to adore her until she broke their hearts by announcing in 2012 that she wouldn’t run for president. It was a huge deal in her home state, however, so much so that pollster Ivan Moore says Alaskans continue to bring it up in interviews to this day. “You talk to people now, they’ll say ‘she quit, she’s a quitter.’ Why would people vote for you again?” he told WaPo. It came up when Politico visited Alaska to ask voters how they felt about her as well:

At the same fundraiser, Ralph Seekins, a former state senator who sits on the University of Alaska board of regents, called Palin “a quitter.” And when I met Brett Hill, who builds tactical knives in Palmer, a town near Wasilla, at an outdoors show in Fairbanks the next day, it was Palin’s quitting that he immediately brought up as well.

“Oh, God, I loved her when she was governor, but I was pissed that she left,” said Hill, who recalled that Palin once wrote his wife a check for $3 for cotton candy for her daughter at a fair. “Alaskans don’t quit on anything … She got sucked in by the glamor of all that Washington, D.C., bullsh*t, in my opinion.”

The sense that Palin is less interested in Alaska than in doing cameos on “The Masked Singer” in the lower 48 is another running theme in the coverage of her candidacy. “She’s perceived a little bit as a carpetbagger in her home state,” said one former GOP legislator to Politico. NPR heard the same thing:

“That (national) attention … to me it’s just made her more of an embarrassment to Alaskans than someone to respect and support,” said Karina Wentworth, a stay-at-home mom and marketing manager who lives in Wasilla…

“Her focus has become more centered on herself and less on Alaska,” Wentworth said. “So yeah, I would like to see a candidate that is more Alaska-focused.”…

Wentworth is backing a different conservative Republican: Nick Begich III. Begich has done months of outreach in the Wasilla area and has locked up endorsements from dozens of local political leaders.

“She hasn’t lifted a finger for Alaska since she left office,” a former speechwriter to Palin’s lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, told the NYT. Begich appears to be the favorite in the race, not just because he’s putting in the work locally to campaign but because he benefits from high name recognition as well. The Begich family is a political dynasty in Alaska — on the Democratic side, until Nick came along. (His uncle Mark represented Alaska in the Senate from 2009 to 2015.) The fact that the Begiches are held in high regard by Democrats may be a meaningful asset to Nick Begich given the ranked-choice nature of the primary. Forced to choose between a Republican from a Democratic family they admire and Sarah Palin, whom do you suppose Alaska Dems will rank higher?

Exit question: Does Sarah Palin really want to be in Congress? Don Young, who held the seat for 50 years, was famous for his ability to deliver federal pork to his constituents. That’s the sort of legislator Alaskans are looking for, an operator and a back-slapper who makes sure that Alaska’s bases are covered in the next appropriations bill. Palin is more of a “Fox News conservative.” Will she bring home the bacon like Young did?

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David Strom 6:40 PM | April 18, 2024