With additional vote counts from the Alaska Division of Elections, the Associated Press has declared the top three candidates in Alaska’s special primary election, leaving only one spot open for the ranked-choice round of voting.
Following the release of updated vote tallies, AP reported Wednesday candidates Sarah Palin, Nick Begich III and Dr. Al Gross would advance to the special election in August. Under Alaska’s new voting rules, primaries are open to all candidates regardless of party but only the top four vote-getters will advance to a ranked-choice election.
The fourth spot is expected to go to Democratic candidate Mary Peltola, whose vote count has been steadily trending upward with updated data from DOE.
On Wednesday evening, the latest results had Palin with 37,741 votes, or 28.19%; Begich at 25,766 or 19.24%; Gross at 17,037 or 12.73% and Mary Peltola at 11,863 or 8.86%.
Speaking to the Empire by phone Thursday, Peltola said she wasn’t celebrating yet.
“I’m not celebrating until the final vote count comes in,” Peltola said. “I think it means that things are going to ramp up if the numbers hold.”
Looking at her prospective competitors, Peltola said several things set her apart.
“The biggest difference is I’m not a millionaire, I’m not able to self-finance my campaign,” Peltola said. “I think another difference is I have a lifetime of public service and public policy work.”
Republican Tara Sweeney was trailing Peltola with 7,484 or 5.59% of the vote and independent North Pole Assemblymember Santa Claus had 6,070 votes, or 4.53%.
But in a statement, Sweeney said it appeared she would fall short in the special primary and would be discussing with her campaign team the next steps in the regular election.
“Alaska, thank you. Ten weeks ago I answered the call from Alaskans and embarked on a campaign journey with an amazing team of dedicated volunteers,” Sweeney said. “I am humbled by the groundswell of support and numerous endorsements my campaign has attracted.”
Anchorage Assembly member Christopher Constant also released a statement dropping out of the race and giving his support to Peltola.
“While I did not do as well as I had hoped, a true progressive candidate will move on to the next round,” Constant said. “I gave Mary (Peltola) my commitment to support her campaign, so our values and issues are elevated throughout the Congressional contests. I urge you to do the same.”
Additional results will be released June 17 and 21, and DOE wants to have the vote certified by June 25.
Speaking to the Empire Thursday, Begich said he now views the race as a contest between himself and Palin. Begich criticized Palin for skipping debates organized across the state where he and other candidates answered questions from the public.
“I think a lot of folks in a field of 48 are going to be looking at the names they recognize,” Begich said. “Are we going to make celebrities our policymakers?”
The Palin campaign did not immediately respond to the Empire’s request for comment.
Gross was traveling Thursday, and couldn’t be reached for comment, according to campaign consultant David Keith, but the results were encouraging.
“I think has Sarah has done a tremendous job of getting a minority, a very loud vocal minority that’s not reflective of the state as a whole,” Keith said. “I think Al (Gross) is a reasonable Alaskan who understands the state really well. Whether he’s your first, second or third choice, he’s palatable to most Alaskans.”
The latest results show 9,501 votes counted in Juneau, with 2,233 going to Gross, followed by Peltola with 2,164; Begich with 1,343 and Palin with 1,340.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.