Sarah Palin faces formidable opponent in Congress run: Santa Claus

The bearded city council member in North Pole, Alaska, backs Bernie and champions child welfare. Could his new workshop be in Washington?

Portrait of a man with a long white beard and round, wire-rimmed glasses wearing a red ball cap with Alaska written on it.
Santa Claus – yes, that’s his legal name – is in the running for Alaska’s only House seat. Photograph: Courtesy Santa Claus

Matthew Cantor@CantorMatthew Wed 27 Apr 2022 (

Sarah Palin announced her candidacy for Alaska’s only seat in the House of Representatives this month, entering a race with dozens of candidates. She certainly brings name recognition to the contest – but another contender may have her beat in that department.

His name is Santa Claus.

Sarah Palin<br>FILE -Sarah Palin leaves the courthouse in New York, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Sarah Palin on Friday, April 1, 2022 shook up an already unpredictable race for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat, filing paperwork to join a field of at least 40 candidates seeking to fill the seat that had been held for 49 years by the late-U.S. Rep. Don Young, who died last month. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)”/></a></figure>

<p>He lives, of course, in North Pole – a town of about 2,000 in <a href=Alaska. He has a big white beard and a kindly manner, and Santa Claus is indeed his legal name, though, as a Bernie Sanders supporter, he does not exploit elf labor. He won a city council seat in 2015, to the delight of observers around the world. Now he’s ready to take his political career to the next stage.

He’s running to complete the term of the long-serving Republican congressman Don Young, who died last month at age 88. A special primary will be held on 11 June.

Santa Claus is running to complete the term of long-serving Republican congressman Don Young.
Santa Claus is running to complete the term of long-serving Republican congressman Don Young. Photograph: Courtesy Santa Claus

As for Claus’s politics: he’s been called “a bastion of blue on a city council as red as Rudolph’s nose”. He says voters who look at Sanders’ policy platform can get a pretty good idea of his own, including support for Medicare for All, racial justice, corporate accountability, and free and fair elections. That includes ranked-choice voting, which will feature in the second round of the coming election. “That’s what’s given me the opportunity here,” he said. Ranked-choice voting “gives people with name recognition such as yours truly, and even Sarah, for that matter, a slight advantage”.

But Claus hasn’t always had that name. “Seventy-four years ago, I didn’t pop out with a beard,” he says. In fact, Claus changed his name from Tom O’Connor in 2005. He was living in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, at the time, and pondering what he should do with his life, as Julia O’Malley wrote in a 2015 Guardian profile. He had previously worked in law enforcement, where he’d witnessed kids falling “through the cracks” of the foster care system, and he wanted to do what he could to help them, he told the Anchorage Daily News in 2020. He’d already grown the beard, and as he prayed for guidance, someone in a car nearby shouted, “Santa, I love you!”

“That’s about as fast an answer to your prayer as I’d probably ever get,” Claus tells the Guardian. “So next day, I called up the county clerk to change my name legally.” It caused a few headaches, including some brief suspicion at airport security, where he got “the once-over”. “Somebody about a month later sent out an email, I guess, letting people know, yeah, there’s this guy Santa who’s gonna be flying around. Not necessarily in my sleigh, but using regular transportation.”

Despite his name, greeting children at Christmastime isn’t his thing. “I’m not really interested in that,” he says. “There are plenty of my beloved helpers throughout the world who sort of stand in for me with their in-person visits.” Instead, he says, “I tend to interact more with adults with respect to legislation.”

To that end, shortly after changing his name, he embarked on a tour of every state, meeting with governors, their staffers and legislators to advocate for child welfare, as he told the Daily News. It was on this tour that he met his future rival for the congressional seat – and despite the political gulf between them, she made a good impression.

Santa Claus, predictably, lives in North Pole, Alaska – a town of about 2,000.
Santa Claus, predictably, lives in North Pole, Alaska – a town of about 2,000. Photograph: Courtesy Santa Claus

“Sarah Palin was one of the governors I visited,” he says. “We met very briefly, but she had set up a meeting with six of her different department heads, which was quite unusual for a governor to do. So I was appreciative,” he says, saying Palin was “very nice, very helpful to me”.

As for their disagreements, Claus, who has not declared a party affiliation, is diplomatic. “Now that she’s been endorsed by Trump,” he says, chuckling, “let me put it this way: being a Bernie supporter, we have disparate views on a variety of subjects.”

He continues: “I don’t plan to get pushed around by her or by Trump. So it may have some interesting moments during the race,” for which he says he is not soliciting or accepting donations. “As a candidate, as a legislator, I tend to look for common ground. There are people I disagree with and people who disagree with me. But there’s always common ground and one’s willing to make the effort to find it and then legislate for greater good.”

The congressional election will determine who completes Don Young’s term, ending in January. If Santa Claus wins, he doesn’t plan to run for re-election.

“I think there should be people a decade two or three younger than I am stepping up and doing their best to help their communities and their states. For some positive change, I’d like to do my little part.

“Plus I think it’d be kind of fun. Alaska is known for kind of having characters up here. I would certainly be well within that tradition.”

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