In two states with incumbents most targeted for defeat by President Donald Trump, betting markets indicate that Alaska's Santa Claus has a better chance (24 cents) to advance in his primary than Wyoming's Liz Cheney (16 cents).
The primaries themselves will be a different format. Conservative Alaska voted to switch to a top-4 primary system, while Wyoming is still holding hearings to consider, but has not yet adopted, some kind of instant runoff system.
Alaska — Murkowski vs. Tshibaka, Palin vs. Santa Claus
While the focus in Alaska is on Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka's challenge to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a person CNN called Trump's No. 1 enemy, neither has the name ID of a candidate for Alaska's congressional seat: Santa Claus.
His successful write-in candidacy for a spot on City Council in North Pole, Alaska, has encouraged Claus to contend with Sarah Palin and 46 others for a place in the Top-4 primary Aug. 16. The former Thomas O'Connor may have an agenda like Bernie Sanders, but his name and his beard may be enough to help him advance in a state as red as his traditional suit.
An early poll speculating that Palin might run for U.S. Senate suggested she would likely be one of the top 4 to advance from the primary along with Murkowski, Tshibaka and Democrat Elvi Gray-Jackson, who then dropped out of the race. Although other Democrats and independents jumped in late, Gray-Jackson and Palin's absence left the way clear for the two leading Republicans (Murkowski and Tshibaka) to shoot into first and second place, meaning both will easily advance to the final ballot Aug. 16.
Like Trump, the Alaska Republican Party endorsed Tshibaka, leading some to assert that the Top-4 system was the only reason Murkowski might win reelection. In fact, the opposite is true.
Alaska Republicans also rejected Murkowski in 2010, selecting Joe Miller to go on the ballot. All assumed this would end four decades of elected Murkowskis in Alaska (Frank was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980, then appointed daughter Lisa to the seat when he was elected governor in 2002).
But it wasn't, and not because of a Top-4 election system. Murkowski simply abandoned the Republican Party and ran as a write-in independent – and won. Despite Miller leading in every poll run during the election, almost 40 percent of Alaskans took the time to write in Murkowski's name, making her the first U.S. Senate candidate to win by write-in since 1954.
So we know Murkowski can win under the old system. But she doesn't get to use that system. Then, she won with 39 percent of the vote; this year, November's winner will need to pass 50 when voters rank the Top-4 primary survivors, just like they did for Glenn Youngkin when he flipped Virginia red.
Wyoming — Cheney vs. the Field
Unlike Alaska, Wyoming doesn't require Liz Cheney to get to 50% to win reelection in Trump's No. 1 state. Notwithstanding testimony that the state should adopt instant runoffs to force a winning candidate to get more than 50%, this primary will be held under the old rules.
A push to have several strong pro-Trump candidates get out of the race and rally supporters around his endorsed candidate, Harriet Hageman, may have accomplished the same thing as Alaska's Top-4 system will. Cheney finds herself losing by 30 percent to Hageman. Still, democracy fares better when the voters, and not backroom machinations, whittle the field.
Wyoming were to adopt instant run-offs in the future, multiple candidates could stay in the race, giving voters the chance not only to get behind their first choice, but also indicate their second and third, to settle on two candidates — and ultimately, a winner with more than 50%.
John Pudner is President of Takebackaction.org, a nonprofit home for Americans seeking true political reform. The organization's conservative solutions include: working for voter integrity through steps like voter ID; stopping illicit foreign money via groups from impacting elections; and supporting innovations like Instant Runoff/Final-Five voting to take away the opposition's incentive to fund spoiler libertarian or pro-life candidates that often allow progressive candidates to win with less than 50 percent of the vote. Read more John Pudner Reports — Here.
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