Republican Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom announced Tuesday she is running for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat, currently held by Mary Peltola, a Bethel Democrat serving her first full term.
Dahlstrom is the second announced Republican seeking the seat in the 2024 election, joining Nick Begich III who finished last in a three-candidate race in the 2022 election. Peltola’s seat, occupied by Republican Don Young for nearly 50 years until his death last spring, is among the most targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as Republicans try to hold onto a majority that currently stands at eight seats.
“Alaska needs a proven tough fighter to stop the assault on Alaska from Joe Biden and Washington D.C. liberals,” Dahlstrom said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “Raising my four kids and working my way up in the private sector before giving back to serve Alaskans, I have seen how D.C. politicians betray Alaskans every day. In Congress, I will stop Biden and the extreme liberals ruining our future, bankrupting our families, killing our jobs, harming our military and veterans, and threatening our security.”
Attempts Tuesday by the Empire to reach Dahlstrom to discuss her candidacy were not successful.
As lieutenant governor, Dahlstrom oversees the state Division of Elections, meaning if she remains in office through next year she will be in charge of the agency responsible for certifying the outcome of her congressional race.
Dahlstrom said her top priority was “safe, secure elections” when she was selected by Gov. Mike Dunleavy as his running mate in 2022. After his reelection she appointed Carol Beecher, a registered Republican who donated to party candidates including Dunleavy’s during his reelection, to a traditionally nonpartisan job as director of the elections division.
The lieutenant governor’s oversight of the elections division is among the issues Dahlstrom will be confronted with during her campaign, stated Ivan Moore, owner of Alaska Survey Research, in an email responding to questions Tuesday.
“It’s a very significant and controversial issue that she will effectively be presiding over her own election, by being the public official in charge of the Division of Elections while she runs for another office,” he wrote. “I’ll assume for now that the Department of Law has determined that it is not illegal, but regardless, it is unethical and it is wrong, particularly at this time of low trust in elections. Elected officials should always strive to remove even the appearance of impropriety in their actions, and that’s not what this does.”
Moore has published tracking polls showing that Peltola has had the highest positive ratings of any politician in Alaska since October of 2022, after rising from obscurity to international prominence as the first Alaska Native elected to Congress during a special election to fill the remainder of Young’s term in August of that year. Her favorable/unfavorable ratings by percent were 52/27 in October of 2022, 57/28 in January of this year and 53/31 in the most recent results published online Oct 26.
However, Alaska’s House district is one of five in the country that voted for President Donald Trump in 2020 and a Democrat for the House in 2022, and both of Alaska’s U.S. senators are Republicans. Peltola’s opponents are also now able to attack her congressional voting record as an incumbent as well as a relatively high absentee rate on votes (which was the case prior to the death of her husband in a plane crash in September, resulting in her being away from Washington, D.C., for a few weeks).
The Cook Political Report, in an analysis in March, ranked the race as “Lean Democrat,” noting “Peltola rose from a little-known tribal fisheries executive to a political dynamo almost overnight in 2022.”
“The former state legislator from Alaska’s rural ‘Bush’ ran on a moderate pro-choice, pro-oil platform that emphasized saving independent fisheries from the excesses of the trawling industry,” the analysis states. It also notes she hired former staff members of Young for key posts — but some of those employees have been replaced since the analysis was published.
Dahlstrom served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 2003-2010, according to an official bio at the lieutenant governor’s website. She lost her first campaign in 2002 by 57 votes in a conservative-themed challenge against then state Rep. Lisa Murkowski, but was appointed to the seat when Murkowski was appointed to serve in the U.S. Senate in 2003.
Dahlstrom was appointed to various positions in Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration between 2010 and 2014, initially as his senior military adviser, but she stepped down within weeks because the state attorney general said the appointment might be illegal because the Alaska Constitution bars lawmakers from taking positions created while they are in office.
In 2018 she was reelected to the state House, but declined to serve in favor of becoming the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections under Dunleavy following his first gubernatorial win.
Dunleavy subsequently named Dahlstrom his running mate for his reelection campaign, replacing Kevin Meyer.
The lieutenant governor’s role is largely ceremonial, which means she may not be well-known publicly despite the high title of the office, Moore wrote.
“Oftentimes, political officeholders get to thinking they’re better known and better liked than they actually are,” he wrote. “This is especially true with relatively invisible, ‘ceremonial’ offices like lieutenant governor. Yes, she’s second in line to being governor of Alaska, but that doesn’t mean people know who she is. I think she will be shocked when she runs her first poll and finds out how much work she has to do.”
Also, it means Dahlstrom would be quitting halfway through her first term if elected to Congress and “Alaskans don’t like a quitter,” Moore wrote.
Another possible complicating factor in the race is Alaska’s open primaries and ranked-choice voting, which was seen as aiding Peltola and some other candidates considered moderates — including Murkowski — during the 2022 election. The methodology means the top four candidates in the primary election advance to the general election regardless of party, and voters in the general election then rank candidates in order of preference. The general election tally casts out the lowest-ranking candidates one at a time — adding any ranked votes for other candidates to their totals — until one of the officeseekers emerges with a majority.
Peltola defeated Begich and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin after the two Republicans spent much of the campaign attacking each other, resulting in many voters preferring one of the two Republicans not to include the second when ranking candidates on their ballots.
Palin as well as defeated U.S. Senate challenger Kelly Tshibaka have been involved with high-profile efforts to repeal ranked-choice voting in time for the 2024 election. Both have been mentioned as possible challengers to Peltola in 2024, but have made no overt moves yet.
Other declared candidates in the U.S. House race are nonpartisan candidate Lady Donna Dutchess of Anchorage and No Labels Party candidate Richard Grayson of Apache Junction, Arizona.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.