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Alaska election victory boosts US Democrats ahead of midterm elections

In a surprising result, Mary Biltola beat Donald Trump ally Sarah Palin to become the first Alaskan Native in the US Congress.

The surprise victory of US Democrats in conservative Alaska has rekindled the party’s hope of retaining a slim majority in Congress in the upcoming midterm elections against historical trends.

In a special election for Congress on Tuesday, Mary Biltola became the latest Democrat to score a surprise victory over Republicans, defeating former vice presidential candidate, former Alaska governor and Donald Trump ally Sarah Palin.

Biltola, the former state legislator, is now the first Alaskan Native to represent the remote northwest state in Congress. The special election was to replace Republican Congressman Don Young, who held Alaska’s only seat in the US House of Representatives for nearly half a century until his death earlier this year.

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Pelota will serve in Congress through the end of the year and face re-election in November. Alaska used the ranked voting system for the first time on Tuesday.

Pallotta beat Palin and Republican candidate Nick Bejic, topping the first round of voting with nearly 40 percent of the vote. Dividing the third-placed Bigish votes between her and Palin on the basis of the ranking, she beat the former governor by 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent.

Sarah Palin at CPAC
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election [File: Shelby Tauber/Reuters]

Pelota’s victory came as Democrats rallied their supporters to protect abortion rights after a conservative majority in the US House of Representatives eliminated the constitutional right to the measure in late June.

Tuesday’s result in Alaska added to Democrats’ burgeoning optimism about the November elections, in which all House seats and about a third of the Senate will be on the verge of capture.

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Earlier this year, it looked like the party could lose control of Congress in the midterm elections as President Joe Biden endures low approval rates amid rising inflation. Moreover, the party that controls the White House has historically underperformed in the midterm elections.

But the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling revitalized the democratic norm, with liberal politicians vowing to codify abortion rights into law.

In conservative Kansas, where Trump beat Biden by 15 percentage points, residents voted overwhelmingly to preserve abortion rights in an early August referendum. And last week, a Democratic candidate who focused on abortion rights won his campaign in the disputed special election for the House of Representatives in New York.

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Democratic candidates have also narrowed the gap in ultra-conservative House districts in Nebraska and Minnesota.

Pelota promised to protect abortion rights in her Alaskan campaign. “Thank you to all Alaskans who put their trust in me as the first woman in Alaskan history to represent our state in the House of Representatives,” she wrote on Twitter late Tuesday.

“Tonight, we showed that we can win a pro-choice, pro-fish, pro-worker, pro-Alaskan campaign.”

Pelota also posted on Twitter a message supporting abortion rights hours ago as well. “My position on the right to choose is simple: Our government should not be in the business of telling people what they can and cannot do with their bodies,” she wrote on Twitter.

Many Democrats stressed that the victory in Alaska had implications beyond state lines.

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“If a Democrat can win a statewide race in Alaska, Democrats can win everywhere,” actor and rights activist George Takei wrote on Twitter.

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However, many Republicans blamed the ranked-choice vote for the defeat, noting that the Republican candidates combined received more votes than Pelota in the first round of counting.

“Voting on the basis of choice is an election fraud,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton said in a social media post.

But supporters of the system said it leads to a more accurate representation by ensuring the winner receives a majority of the vote, preventing a minority victory in a crowded field.

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