It once seemed mathematically impossible that a Democrat could win a state that Trump won by 10 points. But last Wednesday, that’s exactly what happened in the state of Alaska. In a special election to replace the late Republican congressman Don Young, Democrat Mary Peltola beat Republicans Nick Begich III and Sarah Palin—the former governor of Alaska and onetime GOP vice-presidential nominee—and will now serve out the rest of Young’s term. The three candidates will again duke it out for the traditionally red congressional seat in November. In the meantime, Cook Political Report has moved its rating of that seat from “Likely R” to “Toss Up.”
Some Republicans, like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, have been quick to blame Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system for the upset. It’s a ridiculous excuse; ranked ballots ostensibly worked in the party’s favor by not completely splitting the GOP vote between its two candidates. Republicans had the edge, and it wasn’t enough.
But Sarah Palin isn’t just any Republican. Her style-over-substance, shoot-from-the-hip, tell-it-like-it-is, you-betcha attitude helped create the atmosphere necessary for Trump to snatch the GOP nomination from less reality-telegenic candidates in 2016. You could even say Palin is the spiritual grandmother of Trumpism.
As a kind of proto-Trump, Palin’s campaign’s struggle is interesting to consider as a potential national indicator. But what does Palin’s special-election loss mean? And is this election in Alaska some kind of aberration, or is it a harbinger of things to come for Trumpism?