Murkowski Is Through To The General Election With Greatest Challenge Ahead

Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Getty Image/TPM Illustration

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has made it past the Republican primary with a slight edge over her Trump-endorsed challenger.

With roughly 62 percent of ballots tallied, Murkowski had more than 43 percent of the vote. Kelly Tshibaka, the former commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Administration, had 41 percent.

Alaska changed its voting methods for this cycle, and the top four candidates of any party get a golden ticket to the ranked-choice general election. That means that the two Republicans will now face a rematch in the general.

Murkowski’s team set expectations for their candidate low: they likened the primary to the Olympic qualifiers, saying that making it is all that matters.

Alaska voters greenlit the new voting method in a 2020 ballot referendum. 

The rejiggered primary has helped Murkowski avoid a head-to-head primary, which nearly felled her in 2010. After she was knocked out that year by a tea party candidate, she ran a remarkable write-in campaign, featuring ads reminding voters how to spell her name. Her unlikely triumph then helped establish her reputation as a formidable campaigner. 

The ranked choice voting of the general election may ultimately serve her too. 

Murkowski, a Republican who is sporadically critical of Trump and who voted to convict him during his second impeachment, will need crossover support to win back her seat. Ranked choice voting is a good way for her to get it. 

If no candidate wins 50 percent straight out, the last place candidate is eliminated and his or her votes redistributed to whichever candidate those voters chose as their second-place pick. Without a strong Democrat in the race, team Murkowski is banking on the senator scooping up some of those second and even third-place votes when the bottom two candidates are knocked out (one of them is likely to be retired educator and Democrat Pat Chesbro, who’s been endorsed by the state party).

Tshibaka won the coveted former President Donald Trump endorsement, at least in part due to her willingness to sow doubt about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. But it’s also part of Trump’s ongoing vendetta against Murkowski. 

Murkowski is the first of the seven senators who voted to convict Trump to face a primary challenge. The Alaska GOP censured her for that vote, among other things.

But while Trump has a hold over the state — he won it by over 10 percent in 2020 — it’s less decisive of a grip than elsewhere. That margin was the state’s closest since 1992, and Joe Biden’s vote share topping 40 percent was only the second time a Democrat had pulled off the feat since 1968.

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