Latest returns show Democrat’s lead over Palin widening in Alaska House race, but…

Source: Hot Air

Palin hasn’t lost yet. She may still be a slight favorite. But this race is way more suspenseful than anyone thought it would be.

So much so, in fact, that I wonder if the abortion dynamic playing out in the lower 48 may be goosing Democratic turnout a bit in Alaska too. That possibility seems faintly ridiculous to me for some reason, as though Alaskans are so remote culturally from the rest of the U.S. that they couldn’t possibly be motivated by the same mundane political dramas that the rest of us are. Alaskans don’t think about Roe and Dobbs, they think about … moose and stuff.

There’s probably a simpler explanation than abortion for the surprisingly strong showing of Democrat Mary Peltola in the House special election. Namely, Sarah Palin is a uniquely polarizing figure in Alaska politics and may have just enough haters on the right up there to send Peltola to a shocking upset.

I wrote about the dynamics of the race last week here. Because Alaska is such a big state, it takes awhile for mail-in ballots to trickle in. And because it uses an unusual ranked-choice voting system, it’s difficult to predict the final outcome based on the early results. But as things stood a week ago, with 69 percent reporting, Peltola led by 5.7 points.

Updated results were posted yesterday. Peltola now leads by … eight:

If this were a “first past the post” election, it would have been called a week ago. Peltola would be the obvious winner, having consolidated the state’s Democratic minority while Palin and Nick Begich split the Republican majority. Because it’s ranked-choice, Palin still has a fair chance of victory. Assuming Begich is still in third place when the final votes are counted, as seems all but certain, he’ll be eliminated and the second-choice candidate on each of his ballots will receive that vote instead. He and Palin are both Republicans, so one might assume that most of his voters will rank her rather than Peltola as their second choice. And most will, assuredly.

But margins matter. Because she’s in an eight-point hole, Palin will need to win the second-choice race on the Begich ballots by a lopsided margin. A generic Republican probably would, but an especially polarizing Republican like her might have problems. How many Alaska Republicans who ranked Begich first did so because they can’t stand Sarah Palin?

Maybe more than you think, says Alaska pollster Ivan Moore:

The precise margin Palin will need over Peltola as second choice on the Begich ballots depends on how big Peltola’s lead is once the first round of counting is complete but it’ll be somewhere in the ballpark of 67/33. Can she swing that among a group that dislikes her at a clip of 25/70?

Conceivably. But you wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it:

It could be that a higher percentage of Begich voters than expected refused to mark down a second choice, unable to bring themselves to endorse Palin. If so, that’ll make her task here even harder:

Palin needs roughly 28,124 more votes to win. Those votes would likely come mostly from Begich voters who marked her second. Based on polling, however, 70% of Begich voters have a negative opinion of Palin.

Peltola, however, needs as few as 19,368 of those second Begich votes to win if every ballot counted so far stays in play (this is unlikely, since the ballot universe shrinks when a ballot has no second choice).

Polls show that between 20-30% of the voters in the special general bullet voted, which means they only voted for one candidate. That indicates the number of Begich ballots that will be exhausted will be 20-30%.

If Palin does end up winning, the margin will be something like 51/49. Dave Wasserman now rates the race a true toss-up. But should Peltola pull the upset, she’ll have a fellow Democrat to thank: Al Gross qualified for this election but dropped out and threw his support to Peltola, guaranteeing that she would reap the entire Dem vote while Palin and Begich fought over Republicans. Had Gross stayed in, notes Wasserman, he and Peltola likely would have finished behind Palin and Begich, ensuring that the race came down to the two Republicans. And Begich almost certainly would have won that race given Palin’s unpopularity.

Poor Begich, from likely winner to first man eliminated thanks to another candidate’s unwillingness to compete.

Just to make this a little more convoluted and intriguing, remember that this is a special election to serve out the rest of this congressional term. The regular election to decide who’ll serve the next two years in Congress will be held in November among these same three candidates — and the final outcome of this race could influence the outcome of that race. If the Democrat Peltola wins, some Begich Republicans who refused to make Palin their second choice might regret it and resolve to list her second in November. If Palin wins, Peltola voters might resolve to list Begich second next time and vice versa in order to deny Palin a full term in Congress. Anything can happen!