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Mary Peltola makes history as Alaska's first woman and Indigenous representative

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Alaska's new Congresswoman Mary Peltola
Mary Peltola, Alaska's new congresswoman, faces another tough race in November 02:19

Rep. Mary Peltola is still pinching herself after being sworn in as the newest member of Congress on Tuesday evening. 

"The reality has been sinking in more and more each day," the Alaska Democrat told CBS News after winning a special election this summer to complete the term of the late Republican Congressman Don Young.  

Peltola flipped the seat that had been held for Republicans for the first time in nearly five decades after beating 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III, whose uncle and grandfather previously represented the state. She is also the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress and the first female representative elected to the state's sole, at-large district.

Donning snow boots with a deep navy blue suit and large white beaded necklace, the mother of seven and grandmother of two received a standing ovation on the House floor during her swearing in, flanked by Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska. 

Congress Peltola
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., administers the House oath of office to Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, during a ceremonial swearing-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.  Jose Luis Magana / AP

"It is the honor of my life to represent Alaska, a place my ancestors and elders have called home for thousands of years, where to this day many people in my community carry forward our traditions of hunting and fishing," Peltola said during her inaugural speech. "I am humbled and deeply honored to be the first Alaska Native elected to this body, the first woman to hold Alaska's House seat but to be clear, I'm here to represent all Alaskans." 

The 49-year-old lawmaker will have to defend the seat again in November against Palin and Begich. The five-term state legislator won last month's special election with 51.47% of the vote after a process of elimination in Alaska's new ranked-choice voting system. 

"I am definitely working on building on the momentum that we gained in the special election," said Peltola, who hopes to use her short stint in Congress to convince voters to elect her to a full two-year term. 

"We have shown that it is doable but I am not 100 percent confident, it is not a foregone conclusion," she noted of her prospects. "Both of my opponents are are well respected leaders in Alaska and I have respect for both of them and their supporters so I will be working as hard as I possibly can for Alaskans in these three weeks to show people throughout our state my work ethic, my commitment to our state, my dedication to the office." 

Earlier this month, Palin called on Begich to drop out of the race and said "splitting the Republican vote" is the only reason a Democrat was elected to Congress. Begich said he believes he is on a "positive trajectory to win in November" and plans to travel the state. 

Peltola said she believes voters are seeking a "middle of the road" candidate and are tired of divisive politics. 

"Working with everyone and not seeing people in a partisan way, just seeing them as Alaskans, I think that is instructive and I think there is a high demand for that," she said.

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