Democratic U.S. House Candidate Mary Peltola hugs a supporter during a campaign event in Juneau on Friday. Peltola emerged as the top finisher in the first round of results on election night, but is facing two better-known Republican challengers who may prevail when the new ranked choice ballots get a final tabulation Aug. 31. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Democratic U.S. House Candidate Mary Peltola hugs a supporter during a campaign event in Juneau on Friday. Peltola emerged as the top finisher in the first round of results on election night, but is facing two better-known Republican challengers who may prevail when the new ranked choice ballots get a final tabulation Aug. 31. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Election results and reactions

Ranked choice will determine who wins House seat; November races take shape.

This article has been updated to include new information.

Alaska’s new elections produced some unexpected results on Tuesday as Mary Peltola and Lisa Murkowski emerged as election night leaders in the U.S. House and Senate races. However, results are still far from official and each could cede their respective top spot.

A similar won/loss discord appeared in global media coverage about Sarah Palin, whose “advance” to the general election frequently made her the only name in headlines despite her second-place finish in the House primary. Meanwhile in the Senate race, a nearly unknown Buzz Kelley might have benefited from name confusion due to an opponent’s signs.

Not to mention the dominant focus by national media about whether the night was a victory or defeat for former President Donald Trump.

The bottom-line narrative among Alaska’s politicos and pundits is Republicans did somewhat better than expectations and Democrats somewhat worse, even though the leader in the biggest race is Peltola running as a Democrat against Republicans Palin and Nick Begich III in the special U.S. House race to fill the late Don Young’s term.

[Read our night-of coverage here]

An equally significant narrative emphasized by election officials is the results are far from final until the Aug.. 31 deadline when remaining in-person and absentee ballots must be tallied. That’s especially the case in the special election since the ranked choice process where second- and then third-choice votes are added to candidates’ totals won’t occur until that date.

“I would be really careful about categorizing it as a win because I’m not over 50%,” Peltola said of her lead in a phone interview Wednesday. “There’s no telling whose second-choice votes any of us will be getting.”

Nonetheless, some certainties are known despite the incomplete results, most notably who all of the candidates will be in the general election following the first-time “pick-one” nonpartisan primary where the top four finishers advance. Also, virtually all contenders for the Alaska State Legislature — including for Juneau’s three seats — are advancing since only one of the 60 races involved more than four candidates.

In the governor’s race Republican incumbent Mike Dunleavy scored a dominant win with 41.89% of the vote so far, followed by independent Bill Walker at 22.1%, Democrat Les Gara at 21.96% and Republican Charlie Pierce at 6.87%.

In the U.S. Senate race the four finalists will be Murkowski with 44.14% of the current vote, Trump-backed Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka with 39.78%, Democrat Patricia Chesbro with 6.18% and Kelley with 2.22%.

In the special U.S. House race Peltola leads with 38.05%, followed by Palin at 31.93% and Begich at 28.54%.

In the regular U.S. House race for a full term Peltola, Palin and Begich will be joined by Republican Tara Sweeney who has 3.57% of the current vote. It appears much of all of that total came from Peltola and Begich supporters since the Democrat got 35.18% of the primary vote compared to Palin’s 31.17% and Begich’s 26.81%

U.S. House special and primary elections

Peltola, a 33-1 underdog in online betting markets just before the June primary for the special election, so far is the leader in the special U.S. House race with 386 of 402 precincts reporting as of midday Wednesday. The Bethel Democrat has 38.05% of first-choice votes, followed by Palin with 31.93% and Begich with 28.54%. Peltola is seen as having a better chance against Palin than Begich in the ranked choice process since the former Alaska governor is viewed much more unfavorably by voters, according to polling.

But how much of a chance is being debated by observers in the wake of election night. Pollster Ivan Moore, who before the election said he believed Peltola had a strong chance of winning against Palin head-to-head, offered a new take on the numbers in a Twitter message on Wednesday.

“Back-of-a-napkin calculations from our recent poll numbers suggests that Nick Begich’s 29% will split 19.5%-9.5% to Palin,” he wrote. “Which means that Peltola needs a 10-point lead by the time all votes are counted to have a shot. She leads by just under six points right now.”

Peltola said the 16 districts remaining to be counted as of midday Wednesday are all in rural areas, where there is typically a strong Democratic voting base.

The three candidates will face off again regardless in the general election, along with Sweeney. The latter’s impact is uncertain since she could compete for votes by Republicans supporting Palin and Begich, as well as Alaska Natives who largely supported Peltola.

Peltola said she doesn’t see Sweeney’s participation significantly altering the outcome.

“It’s a pretty small fraction,” the Democrat said, referring to Sweeney’s primary vote. “It’s pretty hard to say which of us it hurt more.”

The impact of the special election winner on the general election is also something of an unknown.

’There are three main reasons why the temporary winner will not have a big advantage,” Dermot Cole, a liberal political blogger, wrote in a Tuesday night analysis. “First, the term will be over in a flash. Second, there is no consensus candidate set up to win a landslide. Third, the winner may not get the most first-place votes, a result that every opponent will describe as a hollow victory.

“The winner will enjoy a fundraising advantage, hitting up all potential donors as the ’incumbent.’ That will be an edge, especially Outside, where most of the money is. But donors who look closely will see that the incumbent doesn’t have a Don Young hand-crushing grip on the seat.”

U.S. Senate primary

The Trump narrative has been dominant in the U.S. Senate race and national media was especially focused on it Tuesday night since U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who like Murkowski supported removing the former president through impeachment, lost her primary to a Trump-backed challenger by roughly a 2-1 margin. Polls suggested Tshibaka is strongly favored among Alaska Republicans and Murkowski favored in a head-to-head matchup among all voters.

However, the vote so far favors Murkowski by a few percentage points.

In a statement issued by her campaign Wednesday, Murkowski said “there is clear and strong momentum for the re-election of Alaska’s senior senator.”

“Alaskans made it clear they want a senator who puts Alaska first, always,” she said. “Seniority matters. Honesty matters and understanding the needs of Alaskans and being able to deliver on those needs matters. My opponent relied on falsehoods, outside backing — from the former president to extreme, activist organizations — to try and deceive Alaskans on who can best deliver for the state, and we still prevailed.”

Tshibaka, in her prepared statement, called the results “just the first step in breaking the Murkowski monarchy’s grip on Alaska.”

“We already know that Murkowski says one thing in Alaska and then does the complete opposite in D.C.,” Tshibaka said. “And we know that people on both sides of important issues – like abortion and the 2nd Amendment – can’t trust her because she’s always speaking out of both sides of her mouth. For Democrats, there is also a clear option in Pat Chesbro, who at least is honest about where she stands on issues.”

Tshibaka also told the Anchorage Daily News she suspects many of the votes cast for fourth-place finisher Kelley were intended for her because her campaign slogan is “Kelly for Alaska.”

Chesbro’s results, far below the 17.4% of respondents favoring her in a July survey, suggest voters are picking sides in the Murkowski-Tshibaka contest before ranked choice voting happens in November. Kelley, meanwhile, may draw some votes from Tshibaka due to the “hard right turn” platform touted by his campaign site that declares him pro-Trump, pro-deportation, pro-vouchers, anti-critical race theory, anti-voting machines and against the concept of hate crimes.

Alaska governor primary

Dunleavy got the most votes of any of the candidates in the biggest races of the night, although not the outright majority he would need to prevail on first-choice votes in the general election — and he would still just shy of that mark even if all of Pierce’s voters rank the incumbent as their second choice.

That in theory leaves an opening for the essentially evenly-split Gara and Walker, who have been exchanging places for second and third as more votes are counted. Walker has the advantage of previously serving as governor prior to Dunleavy’s term, but Gara, in a series of Twitter messages offered a spin in his favor.

“The August primary is disproportionately GOP-heavy,” Gara wrote. “That moves our numbers up and Dunleavy’s down in November.”

The former Democratic state legislator also argued he’s been ahead of Walker in summer polls, is the only pro-choice candidate and is competing “against men who’ve run for governor six times.”

Local voting and other tidbits

Two of the three state legislative races in Juneau are non-competitive since incumbent Sen. Jesse Kiehl and District 3 Rep. Andi Story don’t have official challengers. In District 4, incumbent Democrat Sara Hannan has 3,127 votes (82.53%) to undeclared party challenger Darrell J. Harmon’s 662 (17.47%) with all precincts reporting, minus absentee ballots that arrive by Aug. 31.

Another Juneau resident competing in the U.S. Senate race, nonpartisan Shoshana Gungurstein, is far back in the pack of 19 candidates with 681 votes (0.44%). She received considerable media attention during the final week before election day when The Alaska Landmine reported she has been a Hollywood actor and producer under a different name during the past decade, calling attention to her past that was largely unknown, along with questions about the length of her residency in Juneau and specific stance on issues.

Turnout among Juneau voters is slightly above 30% so far. The incomplete statewide count shows ballots from about 26% of registered voters have been tallied so far.

Local votes in the major races are leaning more liberal than the statewide totals.

For example, in the U.S. House primary results for District 3 — which includes the Mendenhall Valley, Auke Bay, Skagway, Haines, Klukwan and Gustavus — Peltola has an outright majority of 52.38%, followed by Begich with 23.36%, Palin with 19.77% and Sweeney with 1.26%. In District 4 — which includes Douglas, downtown Juneau, Lemon Creek and the airport area — Peltola’s lead is an even more dominant 68.43%, followed by Begich at 16.24%, Palin at 12.11% and Sweeney at 1.36%.

In the U.S. Senate race Murkowski is also reaping a resounding majority, getting 55.33% of District 3 votes and 61.76% of District 4’s. Tshibaka has 24.71% in District 3 and 15.93% in District 4, and Chesbro 9.97% in District 3 and 14.21% in District 4. The fourth-place candidate in District 3 is Kelley with 1.71% and in District 4 is Democrat Ivan Taylor with 1.44% (with Gungurstein fifth at 1.15%).

The local governor’s results are also markedly different than statewide, with District 3 voters favoring Walker with 40.5% to Dunleavy at 31.15% and Gara at 22.24%. District 4 voters opted for Walker with 49.61%, Gara with 26.49% and Dunleavy with 19.96%.

Unofficial election results

U.S. House (Special General)

Mary Peltola: 58,614 (38.05%)

Sarah Palin: 49,190 (31.93%)

Nick Begich III: 43,968 (28.54%)

Write-In: 2,278 (1.48%)

U.S. House (Primary)

Peltola: 54,865 (35.18%)

Palin: 48,609 (31.17%)

Begich: 41,815 (26.81%)

Tara Sweeney: 5,744 (3.68%)

U.S. Senate (Primary)

Lisa Murkowski: 68,603 (44.14%)

Kelly Tshibaka: 61,972 (39.87%)

Pat Chesbro: 9,612 (6.18%)

Buzz Kelley: 3,448 (2.22%)

Governor / Lieutenant Governor (Primary)

Dunleavy/ Dahlstrom: 64,565 (41.77%)

Gara/ Cook: 33,944 (21.96%)

Walker/ Drygas: 34,167 (22.1%)

Pierce/Grunwald: 10,563 (6.83%)

Alaska Senate District B (Primary)

Jesse Kiehl: 6,721 (100%)

Alaska House District 4 (Primary)

Sara Hannan: 3,127 (82.53%)

Darrell J. Harmon: 662 (17.47%)

Alaska House District 3 (Primary)

Andi Story: 3,277 (100%)

More primary race results can be viewed online at https://www.elections.alaska.gov/results/22SPECPRIM/index.php.

Spools of “I Voted” stickers await Alaskans during a recent election. A special general election and regular primary were both held on Tuesday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Spools of “I Voted” stickers await Alaskans during a recent election. A special general election and regular primary were both held on Tuesday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A sign directs voters toward a polling place. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

A sign directs voters toward a polling place. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)

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