By SUZANNE DOWNING | MUST READ ALASKA
Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, censured by her own Alaska Republican Party more than 18 months ago, is giving the state party’s grassroots leaders the back of her hand.
Or maybe it’s her middle finger. Murkowski is not only battling back against her own state party, which supported her in 2016 but not this year, Murkowski is now going rogue on her Republican donors, who cannot be terribly happy with her move to try to keep House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in power.
Instead of supporting Nick Begich III, who is the Alaska Republican Party’s only endorsed candidate for Congress, Murkowski said the quiet part out loud: She will vote for Democrat Congresswoman Mary Peltola, who was ushered into office via the same open primary and ranked choice voting system that helped Murkowski get to the Nov. 8 general election.
You read that right: Rather than publicly support Republican-endorsed Begich or even the unendorsed Republican Sarah Palin, Murkowski has gone to the other side, and through Peltola, Alaska’s senior senator is supporting Pelosi, President Joe Biden, and the failed policies of the Democrats. If McConnell is supporting Murkowski at this point, then McConnell himself is sending Pelosi another foot soldier.
For Murkowski and the Republicans in Alaska, it’s all over but the shouting.
Murkowski’s valentine to the Democrats came during the weekend when the Alaska Republican Party polled its district officers to decide on whether to censure Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kan.) and his Senate Leadership Fund for the air-bombing campaign ads attacking the state party’s endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate, Kelly Tshibaka.
That vote, completed over the weekend, was 49-8 in favor of a strong resolution telling McConnell to cease and desist his attacks on the Alaska Republicans’ candidate. News of Murkowski’s endorsement of the opposing team for office cannot have helped her with any sympathetic Republican committee officers.
Now, the Alaska Republican Party is not only fighting Sen. Murkowski, who has been in office since 2002, it’s fighting Sen. McConnell, Senate Minority Leader.
This is the same Republican Party of Alaska that, in 2021, voted by 77% to censure Murkowski, and to endorse Murkowski’s opponent Kelly Tshibaka. This weekend, the vote to censure Sen. McConnell passed by a whopping 86%. Obviously, the attack ads by McConnell are having the opposite of Mcconnell’s desired effect: He’s irritating the base.
Even without Republicans, Murkowski may have hacked a win out of a tight race. Alaskans ushered in a new “open primary and ranked choice voting system” designed by Murkowski’s top supporters. Since most Alaskans are not aligned with any party, the plan from Camp Murkowski always was to help her sweep up more than enough Democrat and unaligned votes to win in November, and her endorsement of Peltola will help her in that effort.
Murkowski and Peltola represent a state that gave Trump a solid win in 2016 and 2020. This is the black magic of ranked choice voting combined with Murkowski now riding Peltola’s populist coattails.
Over the weekend, the state’s largest Alaska Native political group, Alaska Federation of Natives, endorsed both Murkowski and Peltola. Normally, the Democrat-leaning group would endorse the most leftist candidates running, but in this case, AFN has skipped over the Democrat – Patricia Chesbro – and stuck with middle-left Murkowski, pairing her with progressive Peltola as the champions for AFN’s Native-centric interests.
Murkowski seems determined to put Alaska in the minority in Congress, which is moving almost certainly to Republican control in the November election. With just one at-large seat representing a Republican-leaning state, it seems almost impossible to think that Alaska could elect Peltola, but that’s the ranked choice way. Murkowski has done the math. She knows how this works.
For the 49th state, much is at stake. If the Senate stays under the control of Sen. Chuck Schumer, and if the House flips to GOP leadership, but Peltola wins for the Democrats, Alaska will be in the minority in both the Senate and the House.
Murkowski doesn’t appear to care. She’ll be 66 in May, and 71 during what would be her next election cycle. Chances are this election is her last, no matter which way it goes.
This scenario is all a first for Alaska, but this may also be a first for Republicans at the national level: The highest-ranking elected Republican in the country – McConnell – is doing battle with a state party 3,500 miles away to prevent a state party from being able to self-determine its own Republican candidate.
McConnell may hope for a minority he can control, rather than a majority he cannot, and doesn’t seem to care one iota that his candidate – Murkowski – is now openly batting for the Democrat team.
Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska.