In case you were wondering, Santa Claus is a democratic socialist.

It says so, right there on his website, where he expresses support for Bernie Sanders, Roe v. Wade, natural remedies and compassion. He’s also a longtime union member and a city council member mayor pro tem of the town of North Pole, Alaska.

Claus — that’s his legal name — is part of a diverse field of candidates running in a June 11 special election that will narrow the field of Alaskans who want to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young, who died in March after 49 years in office.

There are 48 candidates in the race, but Claus, 75, certainly stands out on the ballot, where his party affiliation is listed as “undeclared.”

Formerly known as Thomas Patrick O’Connor, Claus legally changed his name in 2005 and was elected to the North Pole City Council in 2015, two years after moving there. In 2020, the Anchorage Daily News called him “a bastion of blue on a City Council as red as Rudolph’s nose.”

The only other candidate with comparable name recognition nationally is former Gov. Sarah Palin, who was Sen. John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

The current race bears watching, not only because of its interesting field of candidates, but because it’s Alaska’s first under the state’s new system of primary voting in which voters choose one candidate out of the total field, regardless of party affiliation.

The top four vote-getters face another election Aug. 16 that will determine who serves the rest of Young’s term, which ends in January. The system, known as ranked-choice voting, is growing in popularity in states as diverse as Utah and Maine.

Palin, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, was among the last candidates to join the race, announcing her candidacy on the last day to file, April 1.

Trump’s endorsement was not a huge surprise, given that Palin endorsed Trump for president in 2016. However, in making the endorsement, Trump had to skip over a former member of his administration, Tara Sweeney, a Republican who was assistant secretary of Indian affairs at U.S. Interior Department.

While most media coverage of Claus’ self-funded campaign has played it straight, at least one of his opponents, Josh Revak, had some fun with the name, saying in a campaign video that he is waging a “war on Santa.”

Revak’s strategy might work with people looking for a strong Second Amendment candidate in a state where lawmakers once tried to make Alaska exempt from federal gun laws. Claus is not that candidate and wants to see gun law reform.

He is not your typical politician, but he’s also not your typical Santa Claus. He makes it known quickly that he is not — and never has been — a mall Santa, but took on the persona as a way of politically engaging with adults, since he already looked the part. Moving from Nevada to North Pole, Alaska, helped, too.

“I changed my name to facilitate relatively easy access to federal and state legislators to discuss child health, safety and welfare issues,” he told me in an email.

A profile in The Guardian explained:

“Being Santa Claus gives a person a political edge, he said. On more than one occasion he has called a legislator, lobbying for support on a child welfare issue. When he’s been brushed off, he has called local media and introduced himself. Then the local media, seeing a story, called the legislator. And then, magically, someone from the politician’s office called to discuss his concerns. It seems no politician wants to come out publicly against Santa Claus, he said.”

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As for the likelihood of a future Rep. Claus, FiveThirtyEight in May showed strong support for Republican businessman Nick Begich and independent Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, while Alaska public radio reported May 31 that Palin led the field in contributions. But four candidates will advance after the June 11 vote, and The Washington Post quotes one pollster as saying Claus is among “the more likely fourth-place contenders.”

Athough Alaska has more Republicans than Democrats, its biggest share of voters are independent. And Claus was a write-in candidate in 2015 when he won a North Pole city council seat with 58 votes two years after he moved to the town.

So never count Santa out.

But also don’t stay up late Saturday scanning the sky for results. Alaskans have to mail their votes by June 11, which means it might be a while before the winners are declared.

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