In Alaska on Friday, one hour before qualifying ended for the first stage of a special election to fill the state’s at-large U.S. House seat held by the late Don Young for 49 years, Sarah Palin joined 50 other candidates in forming the largest candidate field in the state’s history. It is her first actual election bid since her 2008 vice-presidential run as John McCain’s running mate, although she has made feints in that direction on numerous occasions, most recently threatening to run against Republican senator Lisa Murkowski. The last public office she actually held was the Alaska governorship, a position she resigned from for no clear reason in July of 2009 after serving for a bit more than two years.
According to House analyst David Wasserman, Palin first expressed interest in the Young seat in an interview on Newsmax, but it was “unclear she was aware in the interview that this is a special election scenario, not an appointment.” She apparently then figured it out in time to make it into the race. Wasserman also noted that “Palin still lives and votes in Wasilla, Alaska, despite spending much of the past decade in Scottsdale, Arizona.”
Her public statement announcing her candidacy showed that she hasn’t lost her signature word-salad mix of outlandish assertions. Indeed, she sounds just like most Republicans these days:
America is at a tipping point. As I’ve watched the far left destroy the country, I knew I had to step up and join the fight … At this critical time in our nation’s history, we need leaders who will combat the left’s socialist, big-government, America-last agenda. This country was built by heroes, and the radical left dishonors their legacies by opening our borders to illegal immigrants, mortgaging our children’s future, and selling out our nation’s interests to the highest bidder.
Yeah, maybe her time has come round again. She can also boast she has been watching Vladimir Putin from her house for years.
The huge field of rivals Palin faces is partly the product of Alaska’s only House seat being in one man’s grip for so very long. But in addition, the special election to replace Young is the first contest to be held under an unusual new election system that voters approved in 2020. It includes a nonpartisan primary in which the top four vote-getters proceed to a general election whose results will be resolved by ranked-choice voting. The likely confusion surrounding the debut of the new system will be compounded by the election calendar: After the June 11 primary, the special general election will be held on August 16, the same day as the top-four primary for the full House term beginning next January.
The generally acknowledged front-runner is software developer Nick Begich III, a conservative Republican who is the grandson of the Democratic congressman whose death in an airplane crash in 1972 cleared the way for Young’s ascension to the House in a special election the next year. Begich III has a head start because he was already challenging Young from the right before his death. He’s not the only candidate evoking the distant past: Another candidate is Emil Notti, a longtime Native leader who lost to Young as a Democrat in the late congressman’s first race.
Aside from Palin and these notables, there are other well-known names in the field as well, including Al Gross, who ran credibly if unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2020 as an independent with Democratic backing; State Senator Josh Rivak, who was close to Young; and Tara Sweeney, a Native leader and former assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Trump administration. And perhaps the most famous name of all is a city councilman from North Pole, a small town near Fairbanks:
While Palin’s name ID may not match Santa Claus’s, it’s close, thanks not only to her brief national political career, but to the many attention-grabbing stunts she has pulled over the years, from a failed internet TV network, to guest appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Masked Singer, to her recent libel lawsuit against the New York Times (dismissed by a judge but not necessarily dead). Her large family’s antics have helped keep her on the margins of public consciousness as well. And she’s kept some of her right-wing street cred by becoming a voluble opponent of COVID-19 vaccination and a supporter of Donald Trump’s phony “stolen election” claims.
She seems to be a pretty good bet to survive the top-four primary, but beyond that, who knows? If Palin does somehow win the special election in August or the ensuing full-term election in November, she would fit seamlessly into the House Freedom Caucus in Washington, and probably the extremist territory occupied by MTG, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, Andrew Clyde, and others. She’s always had an uneven relationship with Donald Trump, but perhaps he might consider acknowledging her role as a proto-MAGA figure by endorsing her or at least not endorsing someone else.
Palin may be very much a blast from the past, but she’s only 58, just a bit older than the current vice-president. We’ll soon know if she’s going to run a serious campaign for Congress, or is just reminding people once again that she just won’t go away.