Four candidates representing a mix of political parties took the debate stage less than two weeks before Alaskans will elect its next member of Congress.
The candidates emerged from a pack of more than 20 candidates during the August primary – the state’s first opportunity to use its new ranked-choice voting system.
Congresswoman Mary Peltola won the special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of Congressman Don Young, a Republican, who held the seat for 49 years and died while in office amid a bid for his 24th term.
Peltola, a Democrat, is serving the remainder of Young’s final term in office. Her campaign’s slogan “pro-fish, pro-family and pro-freedom” is a nod to the fishing industry‘s influential legacy in the Northern state. She has also supported another major Alaskan industry — oil. She previously served as the director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
Peltola and her three challengers all support the development of an oil project on the North Slope despite challenges from environmentalists. Additionally, the congresswoman has voiced her support for abortion access and student loan debt forgiveness.
“When our fisheries collapse, so does our way of life,” Peltola tweeted the day after the debate. “We can’t let that happen.”
During the Oct. 26 debate, Peltola stressed the importance of being an example of “how to be a candidate in a civil way without tearing people down personally or professionally.”
Libertarian candidate Chris Bye initially intended to challenge Congressman Young when he entered the race in 2021.
“We have allowed career politicians to create $30 trillion of debt, the Patriot Act, America’s Longest War, and countless volumes of rights restricting regulations,” said Bye in a statement on his party’s website. “It is time the people of this country step up and become the citizen legislators our Republic needs.”
He stressed his position as a third-party option during the debate, saying he was “tired” of the political division the Democratic and Republican Parties have caused and the “evidence is clear you can’t trust either one of them.”
Bye is an Army veteran who moved to Alaska in 2003. After retiring from the military, Bye became a fishing guide. He opposes vaccine mandates, supports term limits and advocates for the passage of the Balanced Budget Amendment. He has also called for the expedited turnover of the “31 million acres of property that belongs to Alaskans from the federal government as part of the Statehood Act, an area roughly the size of New York state,” per Anchorage Daily News.
“And as a libertarian, I place your freedom and your liberty ahead of any party elite or special interest,” he said in a message on Alaska Public Radio. “Don’t settle for the lesser of two evils.”
Two Republicans also took the stage to champion their campaigns before the midterm elections.
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin trailed the Democrat by less than 5,250 votes during the special election, narrowly missing out on a chance to take over the abbreviated term.
She argued in favor of partnerships with the federal government in order to address crime in the state.
“We need to bust these people that are doing illegal activities. Take their vessel, take their gear, their permits, and we start teaching them a lesson,” Palin said at the debate.
Palin has cast abortion access as an overrepresented issue in this year’s election.
“Normal people, normal voters, they’re talking about gas, groceries, grandkids. They’re talking about long-term solutions to the challenges that we’re facing,” she said during an interview with Fox News.
Former President Donald Trump endorsed Palin in April.
Businessman Nick Begich previously served as the co-chair of Young’s 2020 reelection campaign. Although he comes from a notable Democratic family, Begich describes himself as a “lifelong Republican.”
Begich told the Anchorage Daily News he wants to bring new jobs and development to Alaska.
“My top priority when elected is to create economic opportunities and generational wealth for the people of our great state. To do this, we must provide a compelling case to those in Congress that Alaska’s future is a core part of our nation’s future,” Begich told the outlet. “Whether it’s oil and gas, critical minerals, timber, fishing, or tourism, Alaska provides the nation with a wealth of resources upon which we may build a healthy and stable economy, strong families, and a generation of leadership for our state.”
Begich expressed his lack of confidence in President Joe Biden to adequately address the economic challenges facing the country during the debate. He said America needs to “start producing again” and to “make sure government spending is in control,” per Fox News.
“Begich and Palin have asked their supporters to rank themselves first and the other Republican candidate second on their ballots, saying the state needs a Republican U.S. representative,” per Ballotpedia.
All the candidates affirmed that the nation is struggling with inflation, which has placed a significant burden on Alaskans due to rising shipping costs.
Election day is November 8, 2022.