The first full election held under Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system has come to a close, and it’s yielded a clear mandate: divided, moderate government. While conservative Governor Mike Dunleavy easily won a second term, voters have returned a legislature that’s likely to have a Democratic-led cross-party coalition in at least one chamber as well as a moderate federal delegation.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy skips runoff amidst divided field
Incumbent Republican Mike Dunleavy was the only one of Alaska’s statewide candidates to avoid a runoff. By securing 50.3% of the vote, he became the first Governor to win re-election in Alaska since 1998. Another Republican, Charles Pierce, finished with 4.5%, giving Republicans nearly 55% of first-preference votes.
Opposition was split between two candidates: Democrat Les Gara, who finished in second with 24.2%, and Independent Bill Walker, who finished with 20.7%. Walker, a former Governor who left office with miserable approval ratings, was seen as the better candidate in the event of a ranked-choice runoff – a scenario that didn’t come to pass.
- Mike Dunleavy (R) – 132,392 (50.3%)
- Les Gara (D) – 63,755 (24.2%)
- Bill Walker (I) – 54,585 (20.7%)
- Charlie Pierce (R) – 11,786 (4.5%)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski wins fourth term with her highest support yet
In a race that wasn’t a surprise, incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski won re-election to her fourth term in office. Murkowski, who led slightly over right-wing Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka in the first round, won a majority of the vote for the first time in her career – even counting exhausted ballots:
- Lisa Murkowski (R) – 135,972 (51.8%)
- Kelly Tshibaka (R) – 117,299 (44.7%)
- Exhausted ballots – 9,086 (3.4%)
Murkowski, a moderate, maintained support from national Republicans throughout the campaign despite former President Trump’s endorsement of Tshibaka. Tshibaka faced an uphill climb in the new ranked-choice voting system; while she almost certainly would have won a Republican primary, Democratic and unaffiliated voters coalesced behind Murkowski from the start. Democrat Pat Chesbro received only 10.7% of first-preference votes, and the vast majority of her supporters either left their ballots blank or ranked Murkwoski second.
Rep. Mary Peltola wins full term with majority support
In a rematch of August’s special election, Democrat Mary Peltola once again prevailed over wildly unpopular Republican Sarah Palin. While Peltola only received 48.5% of the vote in her first win (Sarah Palin won 45.8%, and 5.7% of voters exhausted their ballots), this time she improved to win a majority – the first time an Alaska Democrat has done so statewide since Tony Knowles in 1998:
- Mary Peltola (D) – 136,893 (51.8%)
- Sarah Palin (R) – 112,255 (42.5%)
- Exhausted ballots – 14,675 (5.6%)
In addition to her larger margin of victory, it’s now not entirely clear if Republican Nick Begich would have performed better than Palin; in the special election, he would have prevailed over Peltola, but his popularity has eroded since then. It’s clear that neither Palin or Begich learned their lesson from the special, where relentless attacks between the two enabled Peltola to sneak through to a win. If Republicans hope to win back this seat in 2024, they’ll likely need to learn to stop whining about ranked-choice voting and adjust to the reality that their candidates will have to work together.
Republicans hold the Senate, but a coalition is likely
Republicans will retain a 11-9 majority in the Senate, down two seats from 2020; it’s worth noting that Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat, currently caucuses with the Republicans, and that Senate District T (represented by Democrat Donny Olson) was not up. Both Democratic flips came from Anchorage. While Republicans retain a numerical advantage, it is widely anticipated that a bipartisan coalition comprising the nine Democrats and a group of moderate Republicans will be created. In recent years, Republicans have relied on Democratic votes to pass budgets amidst deep internal divides, and with a tighter Senate than usual, a coalition might be a necessity to govern.
With the election of coalition-friendly Republicans like Kelly Merrick and Cathy Geisel, there would be support for at least a narrow majority coalition – but it’s quite possible that most Republicans opt to join. Newly-elected state senator Jesse Bjorkman, for example, has said he’d join a coalition if a majority of Republicans do as well. Republican state senator Gary Stevens, who led a similar coalition from 2009 to 2012, is considered the likeliest candidate to become Senate President.
It’s quite possible that as many as five or six Republicans opt to coalition with Democrats, creating a 14-6 or 15-5 majority with conservative Republicans functioning in opposition. This would be a stable enough majority to pass a budget, and with Republicans comprising at least a third of coalition members, they would have a far more influential voice than in any coalition that emerges from the House.
Alaska’s House remains split
With the official results in from all 40 House districts, the balance of power appears to be almost exactly the same as it was before the election – on paper, at least. 21 Republicans were elected, along with 13 Democrats (down from 15 last cycle) and six independents (up from four last cycle). In theory, this means Republicans have the votes to establish a majority. In practice, however, this will prove challenging – Alaska’s House is currently controlled by a 21-member cross-party coalition, and there’s reason to believe a similar coalition might form again:
- One of the Republican-led races – House District 15 – has the Republican ahead by only four votes. This is well within recount range and the result could change with a recount.
- 21 votes are needed to elect a House speaker, and two Republicans are likely to pose issues for the party. Louise Stutes has been a member of the Democratic-led coalition for years, while David Eastman is a far-right extremist facing potential disqualification over his membership in the Oath Keepers. There is little chance both Stutes and Eastman end up in the same caucus.
- Most of the independents elected were either part of the previous Democratic-led coalition or are perceived as being open to joining one.
It seems likely, then, that Alaska will once again be facing a prolonged battle over the Speakership. Assuming Eastman isn’t part of the caucus, Republicans would likely only need to sway Stutes and at least one independent in order to form a working majority. On the other side, Democrats would need all six independents and at least two Republicans.