Mary Peltola hugs her husband, Gene “Buzzy” Peltola, after learning Wednesday she had won Alaska’s special U.S. House race. Wednesday was also Peltola’s 49th birthday.

Democrat Mary Peltola has won election to the U.S. House, beating Republican Sarah Palin to fill the remainder of the late Congressman Don Young’s term in office.

“I feel like I need to catch my breath for a minute,” Peltola said, speaking to supporters at an office in downtown Anchorage Wednesday after the results were tallied.

Peltola, who surpassed Palin by three percentage points, will be the first Alaska Native person to serve in Congress. 

“I will have that distinction,” said Peltola. “But I think what’s most important is that I’m Alaskan and being sent to represent all Alaskans.”

The unofficial results of Alaska’s first ranked choice election were announced Wednesday afternoon on a livestream from the Division of Elections office in Juneau. 

Peltola, who represented Bethel in the state House for a decade, was ahead of former Gov. Sarah Palin by almost 9 percentage points when only first-choice ballots were counted.

Republican candidate Nick Begich III finished third and was eliminated on Wednesday as the ranked choice tabulation began.

Just over half of his voters had marked Palin as their second choice