Sarah Palin’s Defeat is a GOP Warning

A quick glance at a poll or a room in Alaska would tell you that Sarah Palin is not well-liked there. One of the most surprising things about her loss to a Democratic opponent in a U.S. House contest was that so many conservatives had refused to vote for her regardless.

However, in Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system, only nearly half of voters who chose a more conventional Republican, Nick Begich III, as their first option marked Palin as their second choice, which might portend trouble for pro-Donald Trump hard-liners throughout the midterm electoral map.

Sarah Palin's Defeat is a Gop Warning
Sarah Palin’s Defeat is a Gop Warning

Some voted for the Democrat, while others chose neither candidate.

In a firmly Republican state with a similarly strong base of support, Palin, a former governor and once-upon-a-time political star, had wedded herself to Trump. But more than any other primary this year, her race had resembled a typical general election, in which a candidate is successful if they can appeal to a large number of voters.

Her loss was the most conclusive proof this year that some Republicans are becoming disenchanted enough to vote against the party in the upcoming midterm elections and beyond.

“She’s a little bit of a lightening rod,” Alaska Republican National Committeewoman Cynthia Henry remarked of Palin. Even while there are some conservatives who “really support her,” others “truly don’t support her at all.”

Many Republicans in Alaska believed that in today’s period of hyper-polarized politics, voters’ party leanings would overwhelm any qualms they might have about either Republican on the ballot, and they would thus put one Republican first and one second. That probably would have been enough to prevent Mary Peltola, the eventual Democratic winner, from sneaking through in a state that Trump won by nearly 10 percentage points in 2020.

Rather, around 29 percent of Begich voters went with the Democrat as their second option.

Having two Republicans running wasn’t a bad thing, and whoever finished third would have their votes transferred to the other Republican, Henry said. The reality, however, was different.

When it comes to this fall’s elections, Palin isn’t the lone lightning rod, which is a dilemma for the GOP. Pro-Trump Republicans who won their party’s primaries in swing states like Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Michigan in 2020 will face an electorate that rejected Trump in the previous two years.

Fairbanks radio host and mayoral candidate David Pruhs commented, “It’s not enough” in reference to the coalition that Palin assembled.

The problems associated with Palin do not apply to all Republican national candidates this November. While she was one of the GOP’s early populists, her popularity and standing fell after she ran for vice president in 2008 and resigned as governor the following year.

When Palin’s popularity among Alaskans was tested in July by veteran pollster Ivan Moore of Alaska Survey Research, the results showed that 31% of respondents viewed her in a positive light. It was then that Republicans should have realized “she was on the brink of being unelectable,” he said.

Instead, some Republicans have been placing blame on the state’s ranked-choice voting method, which one Republican, Ralph Seekins, a former state senator and current member of the University of Alaska board of regents, has labeled “screwed up” in the wake of the election this week.

Saying, “I don’t know if it’s a reflection on Sarah or Nick,” he posed the question. There were a lot of folks who didn’t know how to vote or what to do because “this system is a really complex one.”
After receiving more first-choice votes than her opponent, Begich, Palin sounded frustrated on election night and said that Begich should “get the heck out of the race and allow winner-take-all like it should be.” Meanwhile, Begich used the result to argue that Palin would be unable to win in November.

“I think this election was essentially a referendum on Sarah Palin herself — her brand, her image,” he said in an interview.

In spite of the GOP’s general dissatisfaction with the system, some members still held Palin personally responsible for the problem.

When ranked-choice voting was implemented in Alaska in 2020, the Alaska Republican Party, which had opposed the reform, conducted a campaign called “rank the red” to encourage voters to place Republicans as their first and second preferences.

When asked who he ranked second on his ballot, Begich responded it was Palin and urged his supporters to “rank the red.”

However, Palin added after the election, “I was warning people all along, don’t cooperate.”

Republican strategist Sean Walsh, who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, said the party can learn from Palin’s defeat in the special election.