By SUZANNE DOWNING / MUST READ AMERICA / NEWSMAX
Out of seemingly nowhere this week, a bold campaign roared up to challenge Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Kelly Tshibaka took the political establishment by surprise and set up what may be the most-watched race of the midterm elections.
Tshibaka (rhymes with Chewbacca), until Monday was the head of a state agency in Alaska. She announced her candidacy with a fresh website and stunning video, and appearances on national television and talk radio.
The announcement may not have surprised Murkowski, who has been watching Tshibaka rise for weeks, as her potential rival’s name started appearing in Alaska political circles. A “draft Tshibaka” has been circulating.
But the launch rollout had to have made an impression on the Washington political warhorse.
Tshibaka was firing on all cylinders with her campaign. She was on Fox News. The Associated Press carried the story. This was well-coordinated, professionally done — a solid start.
The political chatter in Alaska is, “Others have tried. Can Tshibaka do it?”
Perhaps. Like Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York, Tshibaka is a new generation of conservative.
The mother of five has frontier roots and a purely American story. Born and raised in Alaska, she came from humble beginnings. Her young parents had moved to the state and for a while were homeless and living in a tent, while they sought to establish themselves in the harsh 49th state. Tshibaka attended school in Anchorage, and then it was off to Texas A&M, and Harvard Law.
The young Alaskan was recruited into federal service, where she became a watchdog against waste in government agencies and grew familiar with data analytics for detecting government fraud.
She married a man whose father had come to America as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The two started a family and moved home to Alaska.
By contrast, Murkowski is the old guard of Alaska politics. A former state representative, she first came into the Senate when her father, former Sen. Frank Murkowski, installed her after he was elected governor in 2002. The Murkowskis are a dynasty political force in Alaska.
But Murkowski has never won Alaskans’ support with a majority of the vote. In 2004, she came close with 48.6 percent. In 2010, she held on with just 39.7 percent, and she won with 44.4 percent in 2016.
Unfortunately for Alaska, she is better known as a reliable vote for Democrats. She openly opposed President Trump, who has majority support in Alaska. This year, she voted to convict him for inciting a riot.
Then on President Joe Biden’s first day in office, the new president shut down Alaska’s already crippled economy when he put a moratorium on drilling in Alaska, costing the state thousands of jobs. Murkowski said it concerned her.
Finally, the Alaska Republican Party back home had had enough. It voted the harshest rebuke possible of any of the censures issued around the country for the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump.
Members of the Alaska Republican Party said they’d prefer to see a Democrat in that seat than to see Republican values disrespected for six more years. At their State Central Committee meeting in March, some spoke to this writer and said they’d be willing to blow the party apart over Murkowski.
They didn’t have to – the vote was 77 percent to ask Alaska’s senior senator to stop identifying as a Republican, and to stop running as one.
It won’t be that easy for Tshibaka. “Ballot Measure 2” is a wild card for Alaska. It created a curious new voting scheme, with an “open” jungle primary followed by a ranked choice ballot in the general election. With this method, every ballot will have to be tabulated by a machine; there can be no hand count or audit.
This new voting method, a Rube Goldberg-type contraption if there ever was one, has never tried before in the country. It was designed by Murkowski’s former campaign team to ensure the senator would not have to face a Republican primary.
Yet with the big political money from outside Alaska promising “better elections,” Alaskavoters passed the experimental scheme.
It’s all but certain that the 53 percent of Alaska voters who voted for Trump in November are not going to vote for Murkowski in 2022; she has lost these Alaskans.
The Democrats are also gunning for Murkowski. They have seen the polling, sense she is weakened, and have promised for months to launch a candidate. If she is going to be removed in midterm elections, Alaska Democrats want to be the party to do it.
Nothing is certain this early in the election cycle, but this: Tshibaka came out of the gate strong and confident. Although she has a challenge ahead of her, Tshibaka represents an exciting new generation of conservative for a state that may be ready for change.