UNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is seeking to fend off a challenge from Donald Trump-endorsed fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka in Tuesday’s election, as she seeks reelection to the seat she’s held for nearly 20 years.
Murkowski touted her seniority and willingness to work across party lines to advance Alaska’s priorities. Murkowski is the most senior member of Alaska’s congressional delegation, following the death in March of Republican Rep. Don Young, who held Alaska’s House seat for 49 years.
But Tshibaka argued it is time for a change. She noted that a Murkowski has held the Senate seat since 1981; before Lisa Murkowski, it was her father, Frank Murkowski.
Murkowski said she felt good about her campaign and the support she’s received but said voter turnout is key. She said in 2010, many of her supporters “kind of took for granted that I was going to be OK,” and she lost her Republican primary to tea party upstart Joe Miller. She ultimately held onto the seat with a general election write-in campaign that year.
In this year’s August primary, Tshibaka finished second, behind Murkowski, with about 38% of the vote. Many have seen Alaska’s new elections process – a combination of open primaries and ranked choice general elections – as benefiting Murkowski. But Tshibaka expressed confidence in her own bid.
The race also includes Democrat Pat Chesbro, who has struggled to gain traction and lagged far behind Murkowski and Tshibaka in fundraising. Republican Buzz Kelley, fourth in the primary, ended his campaign, though he’s still on the ballot and endorsed Tshibaka.
Murkowski, who was censured by state Republican party leaders last year over grievances including her vote to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial, in ads said she is “for Alaska, always,” a nod to what she has said is her commitment “to the people, not to a party.”
Trump, who in that trial was acquitted, last month criticized the Senate Leadership Fund, a third-party group affiliated with Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for running ads against Tshibaka. Tshibaka expressed frustration with the ads, too, saying that money would be better spent helping Republican candidates in other states.
She said she was hearing from Alaskans turned off by the TV ads and mailers. Tshibaka has said she would not support McConnell for majority leader and dismissed suggestions she might be marginalized, if elected, in a McConnell-led conference.
Murkowski “can be controlled. I can’t be,” she said. “I think that’s exactly what Alaskans want, is somebody who’s not going to be controlled by DC but is an independent voice for Alaska.”
A spokesperson for the group, Jack Pandol, said Murkowski “has been a tireless advocate for Alaska and we are proud to support her re-election.” The group said its policy is to defend Republican incumbents.
The ranked choice election is in keeping with a 2020 voter initiative that replaced party primaries with open primaries and instituted ranked voting for general elections. Under ranked voting, ballots are counted in rounds. A candidate can win outright with more than 50% of the vote in the first round. If no one hits that threshold, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Voters who chose that candidate as their top pick have their votes count for their next choice.
Rounds continue until two candidates remain, and whoever has the most votes wins. Tabulation rounds are expected to take place Nov. 23.