To US House candidates Begich and Palin, abortion is a state issue while Peltola says the decision is personal

three people at table.
Mary Peltola, Sarah Palin and Nick Begich are the candidates who will appear on the special election ballot in August. (Liz Rukin/Alaska Public Media)

Republican Sarah Palin said the federal government has no business making choices for individuals. But when it comes to abortion, she said the state government should decide.

“Faceless bureaucrats in some bubble far away — they’re going make decisions for us as individuals, and as a state, when it comes to an issue as important as abortion? No, it should be a state’s issue,” the former governor said Monday at an Anchorage Chamber of Commerce forum.

Palin, Nick Begich III and Mary Peltola — the candidates vying to serve the remaining months of the late Congressman Don Young’s term — staked out their views at the forum. They found agreement on some oil development issues, but on abortion the split was along party lines.

Palin said she agreed with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to strike down Roe v. Wade, the case that for 50 years prevented states from banning abortion. Palin said she’d been waiting for this day for years.

“Finally, the state — the people, through their representatives — their will will be done when it comes to this issue of abortion,” she said.

Begich, a Republican, also spoke of abortion as a states’ rights issue.

“Under the 10th Amendment, any powers not specifically enumerated to the federal government are reserved for the states,” he said. “We have a constitutional amendment process by which we may modify provisions related to this specific issue. But I think the court was correct in returning this issue to the states.”

Democrat Mary Peltola is the only candidate left on the special election ballot who says the law should protect an individual’s right to choose abortion.

“Reproductive rights are as personal of an issue as you could possibly get,” she said. “I do not believe the federal government, or for that matter the state government, has say-so in your personal body.”

All three candidates are parents. Palin and Peltola are also grandparents.

Palin said she was given the option to abort her pregnancy when she learned her youngest child would have special needs.

“What seems to be your life’s greatest challenge can turn into your life’s greatest blessing. That has happened to me,” she said.

Another candidate, Republican Tara Sweeney, was in the audience. She had hoped to be the fourth nominee on the special election ballot, replacing Al Gross who dropped out of the race last week. But the Alaska Supreme Court ruled Saturday that the law doesn’t allow the substitution.

“I’m obviously disappointed with the Supreme Court decision not to advance me to the final four,” said Sweeney, who favors abortion rights. Sweeney said she’s still a candidate for the regular election, to decide who will serve the two-year congressional term that begins in January.

Nine other candidates in the regular U.S. House primary withdrew before the dropout deadline, so only 22 names will appear on that that ballot. Voters will whittle that list down to four on Aug. 16, primary Election Day.

Aug. 16 is also the day voters will close out the special election. It will be their first opportunity to engage in ranked choice voting as they choose among Begich, Palin and Peltola.

Read more at Alaska Public Media

Gross, a top four candidate for US House, calls it quits

a person standing behind a podium
Congressional candidate Dr. Al Gross in 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Nonpartisan Al Gross, a leading contender in Alaska’s U.S. House race, dropped out Monday without providing a reason. 

“It is with great hope for Alaska’s future that I have decided to end my campaign to become our state’s next Congressman,” he said in a statement emailed to Alaska reporters.

He declined an interview request to explain further.

Gross finished in third place in last week’s special primary to fill the vacancy left by the death of Congressman Don Young. He was on track to be one of the four candidates who would advance to the special general ballot.

Instead, the fourth spot on that ballot will go to the next finisher — and that appears to be Republican Tara Sweeney, a former executive of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. (Votes are still being counted in that race. Sweeney is nearly 2,000 votes ahead of Santa Claus, a progressive nonpartisan candidate.)

Sweeney would join Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III, and Democrat Mary Peltola on the special general ballot in August. It’s a reversal of fortunes for Sweeney. She conceded the special election last week and said she was re-evaluating her options for the regular election. She has strong support from Alaska Native corporations and their affiliates.

Sweeney’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Gross endorsed both Sweeney, who is Inupiaq, and Peltola, a Yup’ik salmon advocate and former legislator.

“There are two outstanding Alaska Native women in this race who would both serve our state well, and I encourage my supporters to stay engaged and consider giving their first-place vote to whichever of them best matches their own values,” Gross’s resignation statement says.

Gross resigned both races — the special election to pick a House member for the remainder of the year, and the race to decide who will represent Alaska for the next full term in Congress.

An orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman from Southeast Alaska, Gross became a household name statewide in 2020, when he challenged U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan. 

Democrats around the country responded to the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg that fall by boosting their efforts to oust Republicans from Congress. They poured money into Senate races. Gross ultimately raised $19 million for that campaign. His ads saturated the airwaves and the internet but he lost to Sullivan by a substantial margin.

He launched his U.S. House run after Young died. His campaign raised more contributions than any candidate other than Palin.

Want more election news? Subscribe to our new newsletter, Alaska At-Large, for a weekly roundup of the latest on statewide races.