Nick Begich III rejects the premise he’s the proverbial “third man” in the U.S. House race, despite finishing in that position in the primary and remaining there in polls six weeks before the general election.
“We’ve had international press that we’ve talked to throughout the race,” the Anchorage Republican and businessman said. But while the headlines of those Outside stories are almost always about one or both of his “celebrity” opponents, “I’m not so much worried about what the headlines are … it’s the message that matters.”
Begich, who visited Juneau for a variety of campaign-related events Saturday, was an early favorite to be Alaska’s U.S. representative following the death of longtime Rep. Don Young in March. The political pros still say Begich, co-chair of Young’s 2020 reelection campaign, would be the best bet — if only.
As in, if only he wasn’t facing fellow Republican Sarah Palin in addition to having a traditional Democratic opponent in Mary Sattler Peltola, the surprise winner of the Aug. 16 special election to temporarily replace Young until the end of his term in January. The three-way race is due to the state’s new ranked choice voting system, where surveys show the Donald Trump-backed Palin is consistently out-polling Begich — eliminating him in the “instant runoff” — and then losing to Peltola when the second-choice votes of residents are tallied.
The special election resulted in Peltola getting about 40% of first-choice votes, Palin 31% and Begich 28%, with enough Begich voters either ranking Peltola second or leaving that box blank to give the Democrat the head-to-head win over Palin. The most recent poll released Friday shows a 50/27/20 first-choice preference among respondents, but Begich rejects the implication he’s falling further behind his opponents.
“I think that poll has a very high margin of error,” he said (4.9%, according to the polling company Dittman Research). “It was also conducted after Mary Peltola was sworn in. I think there’s sort of a peak in that favorability.”
Peltola, a state legislator from 1999 to 2009, was an unknown outside Alaska until her win in the special election put her in the international spotlight as the first Alaska Native in Congress and the state’s first Democratic U.S. House member in nearly half a century. Adding to the hype was her head-to-head defeat of Palin, the former governor who also rose from anonymity to fame when she was selected as the Republic vice-presidential nominee in 2008, then backed by Trump this year for her proclaimed “political comeback.”
The Democrat has continued to generate recent headlines, due in part to her joining the state’s two Republican senators in supporting the Willow project that would allow oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. She also has spent much of the past week in Western Alaska after Typhoon Merbok caused massive damage to communities along 1,000 miles of coastline, including her hometown of Bethel.
Begich, when asked what he would have done differently than Peltola on policy matters the past few weeks, referred to the Democrat refusing to join the senators in a letter this week to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland reiterating strong support for the proposed 200-mile Ambler Road that would allow access a mineral-rich area in northwest Alaska.
“I would have signed on to that letter,” Begich said.
Begich, who is making resource development a cornerstone policy issue of his campaign, used an appearance at an annual electric vehicle gathering in Juneau on Saturday to tell attendees maximizing mining will provide the raw materials needed for such technology to succeed. In an interview after his speech at the event, he singled out minerals such as cobalt that’s used for purposes such as superalloys that can be plentifully and responsibly mined in Alaska in comparison to current leading producers such as Congo and Russia.
He has more in common on issues – but a notoriously more contentious personal conflict — with Palin, although Begich said he’s both more able to work with people and more of an actual advocate in some policy areas than the former governor. Begich got the attention of an audience and the press last week at a candidate forum by bringing up the long-ago and much-ridiculed “road to nowhere” in Ketchikan, arguing if Palin hadn’t waffled and withdrawn her initial support there might now be housing on the adjacent island that could have lessened the town’s current shortage.
Also, while Palin draws comparisons to other Trump-backed Republican U.S. House members such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Begich on Saturday expressed his support for party leaders such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Begich also expressed enthusiasm for the Republican House leadership agenda announced Friday if they retake control of the chamber following the election, which as expected is proving heavily decisive along partisan lines.
“I think it’s an exciting plan,” he said. “I think it starts to put people back in control of the government.”
But rallying from third place to be a part of trying to implement that plan starting in January is a sizeable challenge in the nation’s biggest state, which Begich is facing with a financial situation that also finds him in third place in terms of campaign contributions as of the most recent federal filing period. Peltola’s fundraising skyrocketed along with her profile, raising $1.53 million between July 28 and Sept. 5, while Palin raised about $228,300 and Begich about $118,000.
Furthermore, there are at present no public signs Republican organizations at the national level are inclined to “target” Alaska by investing heavily in Begich’s campaign on the theory boosting him past Palin into second place will result in an ultimate victory over Peltola.
As with the polls, Begich isn’t publicly expressing concern about his contributions.
“As Al Gross proved, money isn’t everything,” Begich said with wry humor, referring to the independent candidate who finished third in the special election primary in June, only to surprisingly drop out immediately afterward.
Begich said he’s planning numerous additional visits to Juneau before the election, asserting that keeping his current strategy of more frequent and intense person-to-person campaigning than Palin and Peltola will ultimately win over Alaska voters.
“We’re going to continue to travel the state as we have been,” he said.
Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com.