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Sarah Palin is one of 48 people vying for Alaska's House seat in a primary tomorrow

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Alaska has been a state for six decades - for five of them, it was represented in the U.S. House by one man, Republican Don Young. He died in March. Now, Sarah Palin wants that office. She's among 48 people vying for Alaska's single House seat in a primary tomorrow. Alaska Public Media's Liz Ruskin reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: How are you? I've missed you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We need to form a line.

LIZ RUSKIN, BYLINE: In a race this crowded, name recognition matters. And Palin has it. Fans lined up to have their picture taken with her at a campaign rally in Anchorage that featured Donald Trump by telephone.

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DONALD TRUMP: She did a phenomenal job and really became a MAGA warrior. And to this day, that's what she is.

RUSKIN: After she resigned as governor in 2009, Palin became a Fox News contributor and a reality TV star. But at the rally, Palin let it be known she's a regular Alaskan. She name-checked local supermarkets and, as she took aim at high gas prices, emphasized that she drives a pickup.

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SARAH PALIN: My F-150, 140 bucks out there in Wasilla to fuel it up, the F-150. And it's not even the hottest, souped-up model either. But I know you guys, too. You see that every time you fuel up.

RUSKIN: For all her celebrity, Palin has what pollsters call high negatives in Alaska. Even some conservatives resent the national attention her campaign gets, but few doubt she'll survive the special primary. That's because in Alaska's new election system, the top four vote-getters of any party will advance. Also, this special election to fill the vacancy overlaps with the regular election for the next congressional term, with a lot of the same candidates. There's another conservative in the race with a familiar name, sort of.

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NICK BEGICH III: Nick Begich here, running for Congress for the state of Alaska.

RUSKIN: That's Nick Begich III. His grandfather, the first Nick Begich, was Alaska's congressman before Don Young. Nick III has an uncle who was a U.S. senator and another who's a state senator. But those Begichs are Democrats. At a candidate forum, Begich credited his mother's side of the family for his party affiliation.

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BEGICH: And a lot of people ask, well how in the heck does a Begich become a Republican? A raised Republican, by grandparents who were Bible Belt, Southern Republicans from Southeast Missouri.

RUSKIN: Begich doesn't have Trump's endorsement, but he has substantial support from Trump-loving conservatives. It's become an Alaska parlor game to guess who else makes it to the final four. It could be surgeon and commercial fisherman Al Gross.

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AL GROSS: I'm Al Gross. I'm not a Democrat or a Republican.

RUSKIN: Gross highlights his support for abortion rights and favors more Alaska oil production. On the far left is a candidate named Santa Claus. How's that for name recognition? He looks like Father Christmas and serves as mayor of North Pole, near Fairbanks. Years ago, he changed his legal name to Santa Claus. He's one of the few candidates who unequivocally opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

SANTA CLAUS: I say leave it alone. Defend the sacred to protect the Arctic Refuge.

RUSKIN: Claus is only running in the special. He says Alaska needs a full-time House member for the rest of the year, not someone still on the campaign trail.

CLAUS: I'd be in there over the holiday season, and I think a lot of children will get kind of a kick out of it.

RUSKIN: Pollsters say there's a decent chance Santa Claus and Sarah Palin make it past the primary this weekend. Reporting from Anchorage, I'm Liz Ruskin for NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Liz Ruskin (Alaskan Public Media)
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