Making sense of the US House special election in Alaska

Welcome to the Wednesday, June 22, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Gross ends campaign for U.S. House
  2. All candidates in IL-03 Democratic primary complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey 
  3. Another look at Texas’ 34th Congressional District special election

Gross ends campaign for U.S. House 

On June 20, Al Gross (I) announced he was ending his campaign for Alaska’s At-Large Congressional District, leaving the Aug. 16 special general election candidate list in flux. Gross was one of 48 candidates who filed to run in the June 11 special primary to replace Rep. Don Young (R), who died in March. 

This was the first top-four congressional primary in U.S. history. In 2020, Alaska voters passed Ballot Measure 2, establishing a primary system in which candidates for state executive, state legislative, and congressional offices run in a single primary, regardless of party affiliation. The top four vote-getters advance to a general election. 

As of June 21, the four candidates are Sarah Palin (R), with 28.6%, Nicholas Begich (R), with 20%, Al Gross (I), with 13.1%, and Mary Peltola (D), with 9.8%. A final ballot count was scheduled for June 21.

In a statement, Gross said, “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. Thank you for your support.” His campaign specified that he was referring to Peltola and Tara Sweeney (R), who came in fifth with 6% of the vote. 

The Washington Post reported that a representative for the Alaska Division of Elections said the agency was looking into whether the fifth-place finisher—Sweeney, in this case—would move into fourth and appear on the special general election ballot. According to Alaska Public Media, the Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai released a letter Tuesday afternoon stating the law does not allow the fifth-place finisher to appear on the general election ballot.

Fenumiai wrote: “Because this withdrawal occurred less than 64 days before the election, Alaska law does not permit the fifth-place candidate to advance.” Fenumiai also wrote that “any party that disagrees with these decisions should file suit immediately.”

Alaska Statute 15.25.100, a section of the codified version of Ballot Measure 2, describes the process of replacing a general election candidate: “…if a candidate nominated at the primary election dies, withdraws, resigns, becomes disqualified from holding office for which the candidate is nominated, or is certified as being incapacitated in the manner prescribed by this section after the primary election and 64 or more days before the general election, the vacancy shall be filled by the director by replacing the withdrawn candidate with the candidate who received the fifth most votes in the primary election.”

The law does not mention special general elections. The Aug. 16 special general election is 55 days from June 22. 

The winner of the Aug. 16 special general election will serve until the end of Young’s term—Jan. 3, 2023. The special election is one of two elections, alongside the regularly scheduled election, for Alaska’s at-large House district this year. Twenty-four candidates filed to run in both the regular and special elections, including all those named above except Santa Claus, Andrew Halcro, and Emil Notti.

Nine special elections for the 117th Congress have been held, and five are scheduled for later this year (including the special general election for Alaska’s At-Large Congressional District). 

Click below to read more about Alaska’s special U.S. House election.

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All candidates in IL-03 Democratic primary complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey 

We often mention our Candidate Connection survey. Here’s an update from a race in Illinois in which all the candidates completed the survey. 

The four Democratic candidates running in the June 28 primary for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District are registered nurse Juan Aguirre, Columbia College Chicago history professor lymen Chehade, state Rep. Delia Ramirez, and Chicago Alderman Gil Villegas.

Here are excerpts from candidates’ responses to the question: What areas of public policy are you personally passionate about?

  • Aguirre: “Anti-Corruption legislation as well as legislation to end corporate America’s [exploitation] of the working class AND the nursing profession.”
  • Chehade: “[Chehade] proposes an ambitious Marshall Plan for the United States, inspired by the post-World War II rebuilding of Europe.”
  • Ramirez: “Affordable Housing – Delia grew up volunteering at her church’s homeless shelter and became the Director of a homeless services agency at 21 years old.”
  • Villegas: “Public Safety … Families have a right to feel safe and secure in their own neighborhood, but crime is completely out of control. Enough is enough.” 

The redrawn 3rd District is a plurality-Latino district. The Chicago Tribune’s John Byrne said the redrawn district “extends from progressive Chicago neighborhoods to historically conservative towns in the far reaches of what used to be the Republican stronghold of DuPage County.” The current 3rd District’s incumbent, Rep. Marie Newman (D), is running in a primary in the 6th District against Rep. Sean Casten (D).

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Another look at Texas’ 34th Congressional District special election

Last Thursday, we looked at the results from the June 14 special election for Texas’ 34th Congressional District. Let’s take another look at that race and how the results compare to U.S. House races in 2020. 

On June 14, Mayra Flores (R) defeated Dan Sanchez (D), Rene Coronado (D), and Juana Cantu-Cabrera (R), claiming for the GOP Filemon Vela’s (D) previous district. Vela resigned on March 31. Flores will serve the remainder of Vela’s term, which ends in January 2023. 

Flores defeated Sanchez, her closest challenger, 51% to 43.3%—a margin of 7.7 percentage points. Vela won the district in 2020 55.4% to 41.8%. That year, Democrats won 56 districts by margins smaller than Vela’s 13.6% margin of victory. 

The chart below shows all U.S. House elections in 2020 decided by margins of less than 20 percentage points. Vela’s 13.6 percentage point margin of victory in Texas’ 34th Congressional District election is highlighted near the upper-left corner. 

This is the first time partisan control of a U.S. House district changed in a special election since Mike Garcia’s (R) May 2020 victory in the California congressional district previously represented by Katie Hill (D). Garcia defeated Christy Smith (D) 55% to 45%, a 9.8 percentage point margin of victory.

Flores is the Republican nominee for the regular election in November, where she will face fellow incumbent Rep. Vicente Gonzalez Jr. (D). This election was held under district lines dating to before the 2020 round of redistricting. Joe Biden (D) won the old 34th district in which this election took place by a margin of four percentage points. Under the new district lines that will be in place for the November election, Joe Biden would have won the district by more than 15 percentage points. 

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