Former Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican candidate for Alaska’s sole seat in the U.S. House, meets with supporters waving signs on Tuesday in Anchorage. Palin, who is trailing Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola in the vote count so far, nonetheless is declaring herself the presumptive winner and has named a chief of staff — despite also claiming the election was rigged against her. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Former Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican candidate for Alaska’s sole seat in the U.S. House, meets with supporters waving signs on Tuesday in Anchorage. Palin, who is trailing Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola in the vote count so far, nonetheless is declaring herself the presumptive winner and has named a chief of staff — despite also claiming the election was rigged against her. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Alaska’s Trump-backed candidates take different post-election tracks

Dunleavy’s reelection all but official, while Tshibaka and Palin prepare to fight over “shenanigans”

Among the Trump-backed candidates in Alaska’s three major races, one has all but officially won in a landslide and two are talking about “shenanigans” by nefarious political foes before the outcomes are known.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, scheduled to be the keynote speaker for a memorial event Sunday in downtown Juneau, can confidently resume his official duties full-time since he has 52% of the first-choice votes from Tuesday’s election with 100% of precincts reporting, according to state Division of Election figures released Thursday.

While the division will still count mail-in and a relative handful of other uncounted ballots until the new ranked choice tally takes place Nov. 23, it appears unlikely Dunleavy will drop below a majority that necessitates such an “instant runoff.” His two main challengers have only 43% combined, with Democrat Les Gara at 23% and independent Bill Walker at 20%, while Republican Charlie Pierce – whose second-choice voters would likely go mostly to Dunleavy – is far behind at 4.5%.

But the other two Trump-backed Republicans — U.S. Senate challenger Kelly Tshibaka and U.S. House challenger Sarah Palin — are facing likely losses once the ranked choice process occurs and they’re denouncing the process with sweeping pronouncements.

The two also took very different approaches Wednesday, with Palin flying to Washington, D.C., while declaring herself the presumptive winner despite the “#rigged” process and naming an acting chief of staff, while Tshibaka went on Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast to solicit contributions.

Tshibaka is narrowly ahead of incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski by a roughly 44.2% to 42.8% tally, but Murkowski has steadily narrowed an initial Election Night gap of about 6% as votes from mostly rural areas favorable to her have come in. She is widely expected to prevail during the ranked choice process by getting a dominant share of second-choice ballots from the 9.5% of voters picking Democrat Patricia Chesbro as the first choice.

“The hard reality of it Steve is, this might come down to things like recounts and lawsuits,” Tshibaka told Bannon. “We’re anticipating a whole bunch of shenanigans here in these next couple months between now and January to try and hold onto the Murkowski monarchy. And that’s why I really need your help.”

Tshibaka has been inconsistent about whether the 2020 presidential election was legitimate and whether she would accept the outcome of this year’s election if she lost, with one of her most recent statements declaring “if we think that the election was done in a way where we don’t believe that there was something that went super-wrong, absolutely.”

Tim Murtaugh, a Tshibaka campaign spokesperson, said in a spirited interview Friday her claims of “shenanigans” aren’t the same as fraud.

“She’s talking about the ballot review process and the review by parties,” he said.

As for the talk of lawsuits, “I didn’t say we would be the ones filing,” Murtaugh said. However, he said Tshibaka’s request for contributions is because “the ballot review process costs money, recounts cost money, litigation costs money.”

Palin is trailing incumbent Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola by roughly a 47%-27% tally, with Republican challenger Nick Begich III at about 24%. But while the combined totals of the Republicans would give one of them (presumably Palin as the higher-finisher) a majority, her high negativity ratings among Alaskans and denouncement of ranked choice voting resulted in a high number of Republicans not ranking second- and third-choice ballots during the special election in August when Peltola prevailed with similar initial numbers.

But Palin, in a campaign news release, stated “we anticipate victory, despite not having election results tonight due to our assumed election integrity, so I’m already meeting with GOP Congressmen with our agenda to DRAIN THE SWAMP.” She also named former state Sen. Jerry Ward her acting chief of staff.

She was considerably more expressive about stirring the politicial situation up in a post on her official Instagram account.

“They were fine with ’Republican’ Lisa Murkowski taking $MILLIONS$ from Mitch McConnell’s GOP Senate Minority Fund (after she voted to impeach Pres. Trump and supported Biden’s radically liberal appointees) to defeat the top GOP voter-getter (me), as Lisa publicly endorsed the democrat in my race,” Palin stated. “This, while the GOP establishment actually endorsed the democrat-plant/Trojan horse Begich (of the democrat-dynasty Begich family and who publicly admits to supporting, voting for, and funding democrats) against me, while pushing this new un-American Ranked Choice Voting fiasco.

“They did away with Primaries, and purposefully confused voters through controlled liberal media, in order to split the GOP vote. RCV is playing out exactly as supporters of this cockamamie system planned.”

Peltola, meanwhile, stayed par for her campaign’s course by expressing chipper cautious optimism in a Twitter message Thursday.

“There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than the days after an election as the votes get counted, but I’m optimistic, and you should be too,” she wrote. “We did the work. Soon, we’ll get to see the results.”

The top official in Alaska responsible for election oversight, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, issued a statement Friday reaffirming his confidence in the integrity of the process.

“The Division of Elections has found no reason to question the results of the election,” the statement notes. “We have not heard of any official requests for a recount and the process for that is outlined in state statute and regulation. Any recount will be conducted according to regulation: 6 AAC 25.200(e). It will include a hand-count verification of first-choice results from one precinct per house district. Any election contest would be due ten days after certification.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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