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Lisa Murkowski and Mary Peltola win Alaska races and defeat Trump-backed opponents

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Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola on Wednesday became the first native Alaskan to win a full term in Congress, securing re-election along with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who defeated both challengers backed by former President Donald Trump, according to state officials had completed a final round of voting. To count.

Peltola, who made history by winning August’s special election, and Murkowski, a senator for two decades, led according to previous vote counts. But centrist lawmakers’ victories were not won until Wednesday, when the Alaska Division of Elections reallocated votes under the state’s new ranked voting system.

At a victory celebration at a brewery in downtown Anchorage Wednesday night, Peltola told reporters the Alaskans had given her a “two-year contract.”

“And I’d love to work for Alaskans again as long as they have me,” she said. Her victory, she added, shows that Alaskans “wholeheartedly embrace impartiality and cooperation.”

In the race for governor, Republican Mike Dunleavy won re-election with more than 50 percent of the vote, avoiding the ranking process.

Peltola and Murkowski had crossed party lines to support each other ahead of the election, forming an alliance rooted in the similar space they occupy on the political spectrum. Their victories cap an election season in which voters across the country have tended to favor incumbents in battlefield races.

“I am honored that Alaskans — of all regions, backgrounds and party affiliations — have once again trusted me to continue working with them and on their behalf in the U.S. Senate,” Murkowski said in a statement Wednesday night. “I look forward to continuing the important work that lies ahead.”

The result was another blow to Trump in this year’s midterm elections. Many candidates associated with the former president and his polarizing positions have lost in battlefield competitions, and his overall record has been mixed in competitive races in which he assisted. That list includes former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin, who challenged Peltola with Trump’s support, and Republican Kelly Tshibaka, a former state and federal official who ran against Murkowski with the former president’s support.

After the last round of ranking voting, Murkowski had 53.7 percent of the vote to 46.3 percent for Tshibaka. In the home race, Peltola had 55 percent of the vote to Palin’s 45 percent.

Peltola ran a locally-focused campaign using both traditional and unconventional Democrat platform planks — touting her support for abortion rights and “pro-fish” views, along with her support for a new oil project in Alaska and the large collection of weapons who care for her and her family.

Peltola’s victory secures her first full two-year term on Capitol Hill and follows her victory in August to temporarily fill her state’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives — one vacated following the sudden death of longtime Republican Rep. Don Young. Peltola beat Palin in that race as well, becoming the first Alaska Native congresswoman and the first woman from her state to hold the seat.

Peltola is the first Democrat elected to Congress in Alaska since 2008, when Mark Begich ousted Republican Senator Ted Stevens, just months after Stevens was charged with allegedly misrepresenting his financial records.

Murkowski, meanwhile, will soon begin her fourth six-year term in the Senate, having been appointed to the chamber in 2002 by her father, then-governor-elect Frank Murkowski. Her campaign highlighted her work bringing infrastructure funds to Alaska, her support for the state’s oil and fishing industries, and her close ties to Alaskan Native constituencies.

Trump had long vowed to unseat the senator, predicting in 2018 that she would “never recover” politically for voting against one of his Supreme Court nominees, Brett M. Kavanaugh. Tshibaka joined Trump at a rally held at an Anchorage arena in July.

Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, also appeared with Trump in July. She lost both the special and general elections after sharing the conservative vote with Nick Begich III, a Republican from a prominent Alaskan Democratic family. (Begich is a nephew of Mark Begich and grandson of Nick Begich Sr., who held Alaska’s seat in the US House of Representatives before a plane carrying him across the state disappeared in 1972.)

Jim Lottsfeldt, a centrist political adviser who has worked with pro-Murkowski and pro-Peltola super PACs, said he wasn’t sure Trump’s support offered much help to Palin and Tshibaka. Alaska, he said, is small enough that many people who follow politics judge candidates based on personal interactions.

“We all have these opinions that we’ve earned by looking someone in the eye,” Lottsfeldt said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “Donald Trump won’t tell me anything about Sarah Palin that I don’t already know.”

This year’s election was the first in Alaska under the state’s new electoral framework, which residents narrowly voted in favor of in a 2020 citizens’ initiative funded and run in part by Murkowski allies. The system overhauled the primary, eliminating partisan races and promoting the top four voters from a single open vote to the general election.

In general elections, voters are allowed to rank the candidates according to their preferences. If no candidate receives a majority of first-election votes, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and the votes of that candidate’s supporters are assigned to their next elections. The process repeats until two contestants remain and a winner can be determined.

A number of Alaska Conservatives, led by Palin, have attacked the new system as complicated and untrustworthy, although there has been no evidence of technical problems or bad play. At an event last week, the former governor became the first person to sign a new petition to scrap the system.

The repeal campaign could face an uphill battle. One avenue for critics is a repeal by Alaska’s legislature — where a number of seats will now be filled by candidates who won races this year, at least in part, due to the new voting system.

Residents could also override the system through a citizens’ initiative. But polls released by supporters after the August primary showed more than 60 percent of Alaskans agree.

Even if the new electoral system remains intact, Peltola’s allies expect that she will face serious challenges from Republicans when her term expires two years from now.

A dynamic catalyst for Peltola this year was a national Democratic network that helped her raise more than $5.5 million through mid-October — more than triple the $1.7 million and $1.6 million dollars Palin and Begich each raised in campaign donations.

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