At a victory party at a brewery in downtown Anchorage Wednesday night, Peltola told reporters that Alaskans have given her a “two-year contract.”
“And I’ll gladly work for Alaskans again, as long as they have me,” she said. Her victory, she added, shows that Alaskans “warmly embrace impartiality and cooperation.”
In the race for governor, Republican Mike Dunleavy won re-election with more than 50 percent of the vote, avoiding the ranked choice.
Peltola and Murkowski had crossed party lines to support each other ahead of the election, forming an alliance rooted in the similar space they occupy on the political spectrum. Their victories cap off an election season in which voters across the country tended to favor incumbents in battlegrounds.
“I am honored that Alaskans — of all regions, backgrounds and party supporters — have reaffirmed their confidence in me to continue to work with them and on their behalf in the U.S. Senate,” Murkowski said in a statement Wednesday evening. “I look forward to continuing the important work ahead.”
The outcome represented another blow to Trump in this year’s midterm elections. Many candidates associated with the former president and his polarizing positions were defeated in battlefield matches, and his overall record was mixed in competitive matches. That list includes former Republican governor Sarah Palin, who challenged Peltola with Trump’s backing; and Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former state and federal official who moved against Murkowski with the support of the former president.
After the final round of ranked-choice voting, Murkowski had 53.69 percent of the vote to Tshibaka’s 46.31 percent. In the House race, Peltola had 55 percent of the vote to Palin’s 45 percent.
Peltola ran a locally-focused campaign with both traditional and unconventional Democratic platform planks — she touted her support for abortion rights and “pro-fish” stances, along with her support for new oil projects in Alaska and large weapon collection that she and her family support.
Peltola’s victory secures her first full two-year term on Capitol Hill and follows her victory in August to temporarily fill her state’s only seat in the U.S. House — a seat that became vacant following the sudden death of longtime Republican Rep. Don Young. Peltola also defeated Palin in that race to become the first Alaska Native member of Congress and the first woman from her state to hold the seat.
Peltola is the first Democrat elected to Congress in Alaska since 2008, when Mark Begich impeached Republican Senator Ted Stevens, just months after Stevens was indicted for allegedly making false statements regarding his financial disclosures.
Murkowski, meanwhile, will soon begin her fourth six-year term in the Senate, following her nomination to the chamber in 2002 by her father, then newly elected governor Frank Murkowski. Her campaign highlighted her work to bring infrastructure money to Alaska, her support for the state’s oil and fishing industries, and her close relationships with Alaska’s native constituencies.
Trump had long vowed to fire the senator and predicted in 2018 that she “will never recover” politically because she voted against one of his Supreme Court nominees, Brett M. Kavanaugh. Tshibaka accompanied Trump at a rally in an Anchorage arena in July.
Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, also appeared with Trump in July. She lost both the special and general elections after splitting the conservative vote with Nick Begich III, a Republican from a prominent Alaskan Democratic family. (Nick Begich III is Mark Begich’s cousin.)
Jim Lottsfeldt, a centrist political consultant who worked with pro-Murkowski and pro-Peltola super-PACs, said he’s not sure Trump’s recommendations helped Palin and Tshibaka much. Alaska, he said, is so small that many people who follow politics judge candidates on face-to-face interactions.
“We all have these opinions that we’ve earned by looking someone in the eye,” Lottsfeldt said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “Donald Trump isn’t going to tell me about Sarah Palin that I don’t already know.”
This year’s election was the first in Alaska under the state’s new voting framework, which residents narrowly approved in a 2020 citizens’ initiative partially funded and led by Murkowski allies. The system overhauled the primaries by eliminating partisan races and taking the top four voters from a single, open ballot to the general election.
In the general election, voters are allowed to rank candidates according to their preferences. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes of the first choice, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and the votes of that candidate’s supporters are reallocated to their subsequent choices. The process repeats until two candidates remain and a winner can be declared.
A number of Alaskan conservatives, led by Palin, have attacked the new system as complicated and unreliable, although there is no evidence of any technical problems or foul play. Last week, the former governor was the first to sign a new petition to get rid of the system at an event.
The withdrawal campaign can be an uphill battle. One path for critics is a repeal by the Alaska Legislature — where a number of seats will now be filled by candidates who won races this year, at least in part because of the new voting process.
Residents can also abolish the system through a citizens’ initiative. But polls released by supporters after the August primary showed that more than 60 percent of Alaskans approve.
Even if the new electoral system remains intact, Peltola’s allies expect she will face serious challenges from Republicans when her term ends in two years.
One dynamic that boosted Peltola this year was a national Democratic network that helped her raise more than $5.5 million through mid-October — more than three times the $1.7 million and $1.6 million that Palin and Begich respectively collected in campaign contributions.