Republican candidates for political offices around Alaska and in Washington, D.C., urged constituents to “Rank the Red” during a rally held Tuesday evening at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The event, advertised as a “Get Out the Vote” rally, was put on by the Republican Women of the Kenai Peninsula.
Tuesday’s lineup of speakers included U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka; U.S. House candidate Nick Begich III; Alaska gubernatorial candidate Charlie Pierce; Alaska Senate candidates Tuckerman Babcock and Heath Smith; and Alaska House candidates Sarah Vance, Ron Gillham and Ben Carpenter.
Republicans Jesse Bjorkman, who is vying for the Alaska Senate seat, and Justin Ruffridge, who is challenging Gillham for the Alaska House seat, attended the event.
Candidates cycled through familiar conservative talking points, such as opposition to ranked choice voting, what makes a “real” Republican and support for a statewide constitutional convention.
Campaign finance reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission show that the Kenai Peninsula Republican Women group has raised about $24,000 this election year, roughly 21% of which was spent on a one-time donation to Republican Alaska Sen. Mia Costello, who represents part of Anchorage in the Alaska Legislature.
State Senate candidate Tuckerman Babcock, who also emceed Tuesday’s event, pitched himself to attendees as the best person to represent the northern Kenai Peninsula in the Alaska Senate next session. Babcock said he is “committed” to repealing ranked choice voting, which he said reduces outcomes to a “computer algorithm” to figure out who wins.
“In this era, where we are already nervous about the election system and its integrity has been challenged, it’s so wrong to threaten our system with a system where we have to depend on computers to count our votes and to tell us who we’ve elected,” Babcock said.
The Kenai Peninsula’s entire Alaska House delegation attended Tuesday’s event, where they collectively emphasized the importance of voters showing up to the polls on Election Day to cast ballots. Both Vance and Carpenter underscored the importance of each voter’s sphere of influence, through which they have the ability to reach more people than candidates could alone.
“Each one of you has got a sphere of influence that I don’t know anything about, she doesn’t know anything about (and that) none of the candidates know anything about,” Carpenter said. “It’s your sphere. Pledge your life, your fortune and your sacred honor to make sure that Republicans take the state back.”
Pierce was the only gubernatorial candidate to attend Tuesday’s event, although incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy was represented by Jill Schaefer, who staffs his central peninsula office. Pierce’s appearance came almost two months after he announced that he would be resigning as mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough amid an allegation of harassment by a borough employee.
While addressing attendees, Pierce touted accomplishments from his time as mayor and said borough residents are “blessed” to live in a community with so many services that other parts of Alaska don’t have. He criticized Alaska’s foster care system and recalled being greeted by “inebriated” people in the middle of the day in rural Alaska.
“How many hearts and heads are in this room tonight?” Pierce asked attendees. “Do you care? You care what’s happening in your state? I just went into rural Alaska — I went into two communities in rural Alaska and three people greeted me as I walked up the hill. They were inebriated. It was 11 o’clock in the morning.”
Pierce went on to say that he has “bothered a few people in (his) lifetime because (he) got something done” and warned attendees not to be fooled by Republicans who are not “truly Republicans.” He further encouraged voters to “Rank the Red” and said that while he and Dunleavy differ in their approaches to issues, they “agree on most issues.”
U.S. House candidate Nick Begich III used his time before attendees to criticize Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, who finished ahead of Begich during a special election earlier this year to complete the term of the late U.S. Rep. Don Young. Begich is running against Peltola again to represent Alaska in the U.S. House for a two-year term.
Begich focused heavily on his pro-natural resource development stance, which he said would be a top priority for him in Washington, D.C.
“If we don’t have a full-throated advocate for the resources of this state, we’re going to lose out,” Begich said. “I want to be that voice for you in the Congress. I want to be that voice for you that’s yelling loud from the rooftops, ‘Hey, we have to do the development in Alaska!’”
In the vein of “Rank the Red,” Begich encouraged voters to rank him first and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — also a Republican running for Alaska’s seat in the U.S. House — second. Palin did not attend the event.
The event’s final speaker was Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka, who is challenging incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, also a Republican, for one of Alaska’s two seats in Congress’ senior chamber.
Tshibaka, who has campaigned on the Kenai Peninsula since at least spring of last year, is a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration and has also worked as the chief data officer for the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General and the acting inspector general of the Federal Trade Commission.
“I make government work for us” is how Tshibaka summed up her experience working in the public sector.
She positioned Murkowski as a politician “bought” by the “D.C. insider establishment” and criticized Murkowski’s role in passing the $110 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Tshibaka claimed is actually about climate change and caused high inflation.
Like other speakers, Tshibaka encouraged attendees to vote and to encourage people they know to vote as well. The race between herself and Murkowksi, she said, is tight, which means every vote counts.
“This vote determines the outcome of the nation,” Tshibaka said. “You get to decide this vote. You’re not just deciding what happens in Alaska, you’re deciding what happens in the country. You are so very important.”
Murkowski was also on the central Kenai Peninsula on Tuesday, but did not attend the event.
Election Day is Nov. 8. Early voting starts Monday and the deadline to request an absentee by-mail ballot is Oct. 29. The Nov. 8 election will be a ranked choice election, meaning voters will have the option to rank candidates for each seat. Under ranked choice voting, a winner is not declared until a candidate has secured at least 50% of votes.
More information about Alaska’s general election and ranked choice voting can be found on the Alaska Division of Elections website at elections.alaska.gov.