Murkowski wins Alaska’s US Senate race

Murkowski, in a room full of people, leans forward and laughs
Lisa Murkowski greets supporters during her election night party in downtown Anchorage. (Photo by Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski defeated a conservative challenger to win reelection, defying former President Donald Trump’s promise to make her pay for voting to convict him at his second impeachment.

With ranked choices tabulated on Wednesday, Murkowski got 53.7% of the vote. Kelly Tshibaka, the candidate Trump endorsed, got 46.3%. Murkowski’s total jumped up once Democrat Pat Chesbro was eliminated. Her supporters overwhelmingly backed Murkowski next.

“Thank you, Alaska,” Murkowski said in a statement. “I am honored that Alaskans — of all regions, backgrounds and party affiliations — have once again granted me their confidence to continue working with them and on their behalf in the U.S. Senate. I look forward to continuing the important work ahead of us.”

Murkowski was already ahead with just first-choice ballots counted in the Nov. 8 election. Before the elimination round, Murkowski had 43.4% of the vote to Tshibaka’s 42.6%.

The election outcome is a defeat for hardline Republicanism. Tshibaka is prone to calling political opponents “leftists” and “extremists.” She allied herself with Trump and supported his election denialism.

Kelly Tshibaka stands in front of a microphone
Kelly Tshibaka speaks to reporters during her election night party in Anchorage. (Photo by Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

In a lengthy statement Wednesday, Tshibaka congratulated Murkowski on her win. But she also had barbs for the “disastrous Biden administration,” Washington insiders and the new ranked choice voting system she called “an incumbent-protection program.”

“I love this state with all my heart because of its endless potential and because of the resilient, compassionate and fiercely loyal people who call it home,” she said. “I will continue to fight for Alaska and for we, the people, but will take some time to reflect upon what that may look like.”

Tshibaka also thanked Trump and God.

The election was also a referendum on Murkowski’s moderate Republican style, which includes support for abortion rights and working with Democrats to pass large infrastructure bills. It’s a style that’s become so rare in a polarized political world that some Republicans say she’s not a Republican at all, and the times that she crossed Trump further alienated her from the Republican base in Alaska.

Murkowski almost surely would have lost to Tshibaka in a traditional partisan primary. But this year, for the first time, candidates of all parties appeared on the same ballot. The top four finishers advanced to the Nov. 8 ballot: Murkowski, Tshibaka, Chesbro and Buzz Kelley.

Kelley dropped out in September and endorsed Tshibaka. His name was still on the ballot, though, and with 2.9% of the first choice votes, was the first candidate eliminated. His supporters favored Tshibaka over Murkowski.

The new system, adopted by Alaska voters in 2020, favors moderate candidates and gives political parties less control. That worked in Murkowski’s favor, too, since the state party censured her and supported Tshibaka.

Murkowski also had the advantages of incumbency. She has served as one of Alaska’s two U.S. senators since 2002, initially appointed by her father. This election season, her campaign raised $10 million, more than double Tshibaka’s total.

Murkowski had the help of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. A political action committee he’s affiliated with poured millions into the race, much of it funding attack ads on Tshibaka.

Tshibaka, a Harvard-trained lawyer who worked in watchdog roles at several federal agencies in Washington, D.C., called McConnell’s move “an absolute desecration of democracy.”

“The Republicans of Alaska said Lisa Murkowski is not our Republican choice,” she told reporters last month. “McConnell is coming in with millions and millions of dollars from outside Alaska saying no, she’s the person you’re going to pick, against the will of the people of Alaska. That is fundamentally un-American.”

After election day, Tshibaka said she was raising money for a potential legal fight over the outcome. Her campaign did not publicly raise that possibility on Wednesday.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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