JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Sarah Palin on Friday shook up an already unpredictable race for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat, joining a field of 50 other candidates seeking to fill the seat held for decades by the late-U.S. Rep. Don Young, who died last month.
Palin filed paperwork Friday with a state Division of Elections office in Wasilla, said Tiffany Montemayor, a division spokesperson.
Palin, a former Alaska governor who was the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, has the biggest national political profile in the packed field that includes current and former state legislators and a North Pole city council member named Santa Claus.
“Public service is a calling, and I would be honored to represent the men and women of Alaska in Congress, just as Rep. Young did for 49 years,” Palin said in a statement on social media.
Young, a Republican, had held Alaska’s House seat since 1973 and was seeking reelection at the time of his death last month at age 88.
Others in the flurry of filings before Friday’s deadline were state Sen. Josh Revak and Tara Sweeney, who are both Republicans and were the statewide co-chairs of Young’s reelection campaign.
Palin resigned as governor in 2009, partway through her term, and said she could make a difference outside the governor’s office. She also had expressed outrage over ethics complaints she felt had frivolously targeted her.
Palin has kept a low profile in Alaska politics since then but maintained a presence nationally, including through speaking engagements, appearances with conservative outlets and on reality TV. She also was an early supporter of now-former President Donald Trump.
She has hinted at possible runs for office in the past but never took the plunge. In her statement Friday, she said America is “at a tipping point” and that she’s in the race to “win it and join the fight for freedom alongside other patriots willing to sacrifice all to save our country.”
A special primary is set for June 11. The top four vote-getters will advance to an Aug. 16 special election in which ranked choice voting will be used, a process in line with a new elections system approved by voters in 2020.
The winner, targeted to be certified by Sept. 2, will serve the remainder of Young’s term, which expires in January.
The special election will coincide with the regular primary. The regular primary and November general election will determine who represents Alaska in the House for a two-year term starting in January.
Others who filed Friday include Democratic state Rep. Adam Wool; independent Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2020; and Emil Notti, a Democrat who narrowly lost the 1973 election to Young. Former lawmakers Andrew Halcro and Mary Sattler Peltola are also running.
They join a field that had already included Republican Nick Begich, who previously announced plans to run for U.S. House last fall; Democrat Christopher Constant, an Anchorage Assembly member; and John Coghill, a Republican former state lawmaker.
Begich, an early challenger to Young, said he sees the Matanuska-Susitna region, a hotbed of conservatism that includes Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, as one of his strongest areas of the state.
Begich said there are a “lot of opportunistic candidates, in our view, that have chosen to get in. I think that the entry of Gov. Palin is completely consistent with that sort of spirit of opportunism that we’re seeing right now.”
Revak, who previously worked for Young’s office, said he felt a “strong calling and a duty” to step forward.
He said he was “heartbroken” by the filing timeline, coinciding with a period he said should be focused on remembering Young. Young lied in state at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. A public memorial was held in the Washington, D.C.-area on Wednesday and a public memorial is planned in Anchorage on Saturday.
Revak said he also plans to run in the regular primary for U.S. House. Palin, Begich, Constant, Gross and Peltola are also among those who have filed to run in both. Sweeney in a statement said she planned to run in both.
Sweeney is a former assistant secretary of Indian Affairs with the U.S. Department of Interior.
“This weekend I will join my fellow Alaskans in honoring the life and legacy of Congressman Young,” she said in a statement. “For nearly 50 years he fought tirelessly for our state and he sets the bar for what it means to serve.”
She said she is excited to share her vision for the future in the coming weeks.
Gross’ campaign has announced a leadership team that includes several Republicans and independents, as well as Democrats, including former Gov. Tony Knowles.
“We are building a campaign that embodies all of Alaska,” Gross said in a statement.
Wool said he has privately discussed a run for years. He said earlier in the day Friday that he looked at the candidates running in the special primary and “wasn’t that impressed. Many of them have never won an election, don’t have any statewide recognition and politically aren’t aligned certainly not with me or what I would think the majority of Alaskans are looking for.”
Wool, from Fairbanks, said he considers himself moderate. He said he has yet to decide whether to run in the regular primary.
Halcro, who has a podcast on which he talks politics, lost to Palin in the 2006 gubernatorial general election. He said during this campaign he plans to play up his intent to only run to fill the remainder of the term. He is running as an independent.
He said if the person who wins the special election also is in the November general election, he expects they would spend a fair amount of time campaigning. He said if elected, he would be focused on congressional work.
Peltola, a Democrat from Bethel, noted the long list of candidates and said there is “obviously a lot of pent-up desire to serve our state.” She said Alaska is diverse and that “it’s important to me that the field of candidates also reflects Alaska’s diversity.” Peltola is Yup’ik Eskimo.
Meanwhile, a man who years ago legally changed his name to Santa Claus and serves on the North Pole city council also filed for the special primary. Claus, who said he has a “strong affinity” for Bernie Sanders, is running as an independent.
He said he is not soliciting or raising money. He said the new elections process “gives people like me an opportunity, without having to deal with parties, to throw our hat in the ring.”
“I do have name recognition,” he said with a laugh.