(The Hill) — Tuesday’s primaries in Alaska and Wyoming will help set the tone for November’s general elections, with a number of critical contests at stake.
In Wyoming, Rep. Liz Cheney is in a fight for her political life as she faces Harriet Hageman, who has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, in the state’s Republican House primary. At the same time, incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski will also face off for the first time against Trump-backed Kelly Tshibaka and other candidates in Alaska’s Republican Senate primary. Tuesday will also test former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as she seeks to make a comeback to elected office in the state’s special congressional election.
Here are five things to watch ahead of Tuesday’s primaries.
Can Cheney outperform expectations?
Cheney will face a steep climb in Tuesday’s primary against Hageman as polls show the incumbent congresswoman trailing the Trump-backed challenger and as other House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump lose their own primaries.
A Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center poll released last week showed Hageman leading Cheney 57 percent to 28 percent, while a separate Casper Star Tribune poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling showed Hageman leading 52 to 30 percent.
On top of that, various House Republicans who voted to impeach the former president, including Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Peter Meijer (Mich.) and Tom Rice (S.C.), have lost their primaries to Trump-backed primary challengers in recent months.
But while many pundits and strategists are predicting the end of Cheney’s career in Congress for the moment, others say the incumbent congresswoman could do better than the polls suggest, even if she’ll still likely lose. Cheney has led the fundraising race, with outside money pouring in, opening the door to various campaign resources.
Other experts point to the potential impact crossover Democratic voting could have on the race, predicting that it could give her a helpful boost. The New York Times reported in June that registered Democrats in Wyoming were receiving mail from Cheney’s campaign that contained instructions on how to change their party registration so they could cast ballots for her in the primary. Additionally, Cheney has received support from Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Tom Malinowski (N.J.) and Dean Phillips (Minn.), who cut ads for her in Wyoming.
Will Palin be coming to Congress?
In Alaska, voters will decide whether to send Palin, a 2008 vice presidential candidate and former governor of the state, to Capitol Hill.
Palin is running in the special election for Alaska’s at-large congressional seat, which was previously held by the late Rep. Don Young (R). The former governor is running against fellow Republican Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola. While Palin has received Trump’s endorsement, it’s unclear how she will perform in Tuesday’s primary as a result of the new ranked-choice voting system. The new system could benefit candidates such as Begich, given that a traditional primary would have brought out a more conservative base that would likely rally around Palin. Additionally, recent polls show Palin trailing Begich and Peltola.
Because of the new system, the winner of the special election won’t be known for days. Significantly, Palin is on Tuesday’s ballot twice: Once for the special election and again for the at-large House primary featuring dozens of candidates. If she advances to the November general election, she could still have a chance to join Congress, even if she loses the special election this week.
Does Alaska’s voting process go off without a hitch?
Alaska’s special election will mark the first race in the state’s history that will use the ranked-choice voting system.
The state adopted the process in 2020 as a result of a ballot measure approved by voters. Supporters of the process argue that it will lead to less partisanship.
In ranked-choice voting, a candidate needs more than 50 percent of the vote to be declared the winner outright. If the front-runner doesn’t have that percentage of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes that round drops off the ballot, and those who ranked that candidate first will have their votes go to their second choice. The process continues until a candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote.
The state’s special House race election will be the only race with ranked-choice voting on Tuesday, but it will provide a preview of how other candidates running in races such as the state’s Senate election will do in November.
How does Murkowski do in the primary?
Voters will get their first look at how Murkowski performs in a primary against a Trump-backed challenger on Tuesday, but the results may not be indicative of November’s general election results.
Unlike in the special House election, Tuesday’s Senate primary will not involve ranked-choice voting. Tuesday will showcase an all-party primary in which the top four voter-getters will advance to the general election; then, in November, the winner will be declared according to ranked-choice voting. Murkowski is not expected to lead in Tuesday’s primary, because the environment will likely favor more partisan candidates such as Tshibaka. However, experts say that once it’s time for the general election, Murkowski will gain more support from Democratic and independent voters, giving her an advantage over Tshibaka.
Still, Tuesday’s Senate primary will be viewed by some as a test of Trump’s political clout in the state. The former president has made it his mission to work to oust Murkowski from office as a result of her vote to convict him during his second impeachment trial. And while Trump won the state by roughly 10 points, Murkowski enjoys a high approval rating in Alaska. According to data released by Morning Consult, 46 percent of Alaska voters say they approve of Murkowski’s job performance, while 39 percent say they disapprove.
What does voter turnout look like?
Tuesday’s primaries come as recent events have turned up the volume in an already extremely partisan political environment in the country. Last week, the country was rocked by news that the FBI searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, seizing a number of documents that were deemed classified. An unsealed warrant, which was approved by a federal judge, shows the FBI executed the warrant while investigating whether the Espionage Act had been violated.
Republicans, particularly those loyal to Trump, have pounced on the news, criticizing the FBI and Justice Department over the move to search Trump’s property. Conservatives have also used the news to rally their political base, a move that could stand to boost turnout in highly partisan primaries.
On the Democratic side, it’s unclear how President Biden’s recent wins, including the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, will impact the party’s turnout in the primaries or if the prospect of Hageman in Congress will drive Wyoming Democrats to vote for Cheney. Regardless, turnout in Tuesday’s primaries could help read the tea leaves going into November.