Screenshot from official U.S. House video
Rep. Mary Peltola, an Alaska Democrat, delivers a speech on the U.S. House floor before Thursday’s vote approving her first bill, establishing an Office of Food Security in the Department of Veterans Affairs. It passed the House by a 376-49 vote, although its fate in the Senate is undetermined.

Screenshot from official U.S. House video Rep. Mary Peltola, an Alaska Democrat, delivers a speech on the U.S. House floor before Thursday’s vote approving her first bill, establishing an Office of Food Security in the Department of Veterans Affairs. It passed the House by a 376-49 vote, although its fate in the Senate is undetermined.

Poll: Peltola’s a popular pol

Food for vets bill passes House, pollster says she is “the most popular figure in Alaska right now.”

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, a day after her first bill passed the House, got more good news heading into her November reelection campaign as a poll released Friday shows her decisively defeating Republican Nick Begich in the final round of ranked choice voting.

The bill establishing an Office of Food Security in the Department of Veterans Affairs passed the House by a 376-49 vote, although its fate in the Senate is undetermined. It’s also not likely to sway Freedom Caucus-type conservative voters in the election who bristled at the bill.

But it did earn the Bethel Democrat another round of generally positive headlines and social media comments that even her primary opponent says appears to be contributing to her rise in polls and approval ratings since she won the August special election to fill the remainder of the late Rep. Don Young’s term following his death in March.

Friday’s survey defies the convention political wisdom Begich would beat Peltola head-to-head because he is much less polarizing than Sarah Palin, the former governor who until now has maintained a lead among Republicans and thus seemed likely make it the final stage of the ranked choice process.

Peltola was the first-choice preference of 48.7% of 1,282 likely voters surveyed Sept. 25-27, with Begich at 25.6%, Palin 23.3% and Libertarian Chris Bye at 2.4%, according to the findings by Alaska Survey Research.

Begich and Peltola split most of Bye’s votes when he is eliminated in the first ranked choice round, according to the poll. While Begich then picks up most of Palin’s voters who rank a third candidate it’s not enough to keep Peltola from prevailing 54.3% to 45.7%, a significantly larger margin than her 3% win over Palin in the special election.

”Call it a honeymoon phase (or) whatever,” Ivan Moore, owner of Alaska Survey Research, wrote in a series of messages analyzing the poll results on the company’s Twitter account. “She is categorically the most popular figure in Alaska right now.”

Peltola has a 53% positive (including 34% “very positive”) and 27% negative rating, compared to Begich with a 41.9-40.6 split and Palin at 30.8-65.7.

“No one else even approaches those numbers,” Moore wrote about Peltola’s favorability numbers in comparison to all candidates for all races covered in his survey.

The survey notes 47.2% of respondents said they voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, compared to 38% for Joe Biden. Trump was favored by Alaska voters 52.83% to 42.77% in the actual election.

Peltola continues to peak, provoke

Peltola rose from relative obscurity to international political celebrity virtually overnight by becoming the first Alaska Native person elected to Congress and the first Democrat to hold the state’s lone U.S. House seat in about 50 years. She immediately sought to establish bipartisan credentials by hiring mostly Republican staffers including Young’s chief of staff — and on Friday reintroduced eight of Young’s bills.

In Peltola’s floor speech Thursday for her bill, which reached the House floor a week after its was introduced, she also emphasized Republicans as key supporters.

“I rise today to speak on a topic of vital importance to my state, where veterans comprise about 10% of the population,” she said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the support of my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, for their support of this important bill. I know this will not solve the problem entirely, but I believe it will help in Alaska and throughout the country.”

The no votes in the House came from Freedom Caucus members, and their sentiments were echoed by conservative entities in Alaska such as Must Read Alaska whose news story stated “some are calling the bill the Hooked on Handouts Act…Rather than increasing veterans’ pay, it gets them to use government programs to survive.” Most of the story’s reader comments denounce the bill and Peltola using various political, economic and racial terms.

Coverage and comments elsewhere was more positive toward Peltola’s bill, such as a Newsweek article headlined “List of 49 Republicans Who Voted Against Food Security Help for Veterans.” But the overall political portrait of her special election win and upcoming general election contest also continue to be fodder for caricatures, such as a Politico feature published Friday headlined “America’s Weirdest Voters Test Its Newest Voting System.”

Governor’s race also shifts, Senate still solid

The evolving adjustment by Alaskans to the ranked choice process isn’t preventing them from remaining strongly divided on the concept, with 42% in favor, 41.7% opposed and 16.3% percent neutral, according to the poll released Thursday.

It also doesn’t seem to be altering the ultimate predicted outcome of the major races in November besides the House.

An exchange of second- and third-ranked candidates of sorts occurred in the Alaska governor’s race, with Democrat Les Gara finishing well ahead of Independent Bill Walker in Friday’s survey, with 28.3% and 21.2% of first-choice votes respectively. Gara finished slightly behind Walker in the August primary and the two candidates have swapped positions several times during the election cycle.

But the ultimate outcome still suggests incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy is the most likely winner, prevailing 53.4% to 46.6% against Gara in the final ranked choice round. The poll shows Walker faring slightly better in a head-to-head match against Dunleavy, with the incumbent winning 51.2% to 47.9%.

Moore, in his online analysis, states “Dunleavy has taken a hit” recently, with a near-even 48-47 approval rating due to “possible fallout from the recent storm in Western Alaska.” In particular, the governor is hurt by a 33-62 split among respondents in rural Alaska.

“This race isn’t over,” Moore wrote.

The U.S. Senate race is the most decisive in the new poll, with respondents favoring incumbent Lisa Murkowski over fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka by a 56.6% to 43.4% final round tally. Democrat Patricia Chesbro tops out at 17%, roughly where polls showed her before the August primary, but she finished far behind that total with most of the actual voters casting ballots for Murkowski.

“Murkowski has pulled away lately, riding the Peltola wave,” Moore wrote. “The Peltola-Murkowski symbiosis is strong, despite the fact they’re in different parties. People who are positive to Peltola are 71% positive to Murkowski. People who are positive to Murkowski are 85% positive to Peltola.”

The ballot measure on a constitutional convention is also shaping up to be a lopsided vote, with 53.8% of survey sp0ndents opposing it, 30.8% favoring and 15.3% opting for “I wouldn’t vote.”

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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