Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has held her seat since she landed it back in 2002, and she just announced on Friday, Nov. 12, her intention to keep holding on. Riding on the coattails of Donald J. Trump in the red wave of 2016, she washed away the competition by raking in 44.4% of the total vote – a gap of 15.2% over her closest rival, Libertarian Joe Miller, the man who beat her in the Republican primary back in 2010 only to lose the general election to Murkowski the write-in by 4.1%. But the Trump years – and, for that matter, the first Biden year – weren’t kind to her reputation amongst conservative voters. Can the northern politician rely on another red wave to wash away the competition – or will her constituents decide she turned on them when she turned on Trump and send her packing?
Lisa Murkowski was appointed to her seat when her father, Frank, picked her to finish his term out after he was elected governor. For 40 years, Alaska has kept a Murkowski in the U.S. Senate. Lisa certainly doesn’t mind banking on that connection, either. “In this election, Lower 48 outsiders are going to try to grab Alaska’s Senate seat for their partisan agendas,” she said. “They don’t understand our state and frankly, they couldn’t care less about your future.”
For the fiercely independent people of The Last Frontier, a career politician from a family with such deep and widespread roots throughout the state’s leadership would be a fool not to paint the opposition as nosy outsiders.
But she also played up her centrist bona fides – and that might have been a mistake.
In 2016, the election went like this:
- Lisa Murkowski, Republican, 44.4% (138,149 votes)
- Joe Miller, Libertarian, 29.2% (90,825 votes)
- Margaret Stock, Independent, 13.2% (41,194 votes)
- Ray Metcalfe, Democrat, 11.6% (36,200 votes)
- Breck Craig, Independent, 0.8% (2,609 votes)
- Ted Gianoutsos, Independent, 0.6% (1,758 votes)
As you can see, the sole Democrat on that list wasn’t dead last, but he might as well have been. Not only did Murkowski pull in nearly four times Metcalfe’s vote count, but a Libertarian more than doubled it. And that fact bears repeating: A Libertarian – her old nemesis, Joe Miller, was the runner up the last time Murkowski faced re-election. And that Libertarian more than doubled the vote count of the only Democrat on the list. And Murkowski failed to show a similar gap, coming it at only about 1.5 times Miller’s share of the total.
If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the political bent of the Alaskan people, then peruse on, dear reader; we’re getting there.
The Trump Factor
The 2016 election results, of course, reflect the Alaska that was before Murkowski became known as one of the Republicans most likely to side with the Democrats, thanks to her open disapproval of all things Trump. Now let’s take a look at that Trump factor. In 2016, Trump won 51.3% of the Alaskan vote. In 2020 – an election in which Joe Biden was put forth as the “centrist” who would work across the aisle and put an end to partisan bickering – Trump did even better, winning 52.8%. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of Alaskan never-Trump Republicans with whom Murkowski can relate.
In People’s coverage of Friday’s announcement, Aaron Parsley wrote: “Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski wants to keep her seat in the U.S. Senate – and she’s ready to fight for it.” Well, she certainly has a fight on her hands, as the Donald, who managed to pull an increase in support in her state last year, has gone beyond merely endorsing a primary challenger; he has actively campaigned against the incumbent.
“Lisa Murkowski is bad for Alaska,” the former president said. “Kelly is a fighter who stands for Alaska value and America First. She is MAGA all the way.”
Recall that not only did Murkowski support more than one of Biden’s spending measures this year, but she was also the sole GOP senator to vote against the confirmation of Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and for conviction in Trump’s second impeachment trial. She voted against U.S. Senate Bill 3275, which would have banned abortion after 20 weeks, had it not died in Congress. She voted against limiting federal spending through 2029 – another bill that died in the Senate. And she voted to block then-President Trump’s border wall emergency.
2022 No Sure Bet
Given her own electoral history and her family’s apparent dynastic hold of Alaska, Murkowski 2022 may seem, at first flush, a sure bet – especially when one considered the likelihood of yet another red wave in the midterms. After all, the people of Alaska aren’t likely to elect a Democrat this go around, now are they?
That may be the conventional thinking in most states – and it may be accurate in most states – but it simply doesn’t apply to Alaska in 2022. For one thing, there isn’t a single Democrat on the ballot.
There’s Murkowski, of course, then she has three Republican challengers. Kelly Tshibaka is Trump’s chosen one. She seems poised to take a good deal – if not all – of that 52.8% Trump won in 2020, before the year of Biden boondoggles. Then there’s Sam Little and Karl Speights. Outside the party, Murkowski faces Independents Dustin Darden and Huhnkie Lee, as well as Libertarian Sean Thorne. So far, there are no Democrats to drive votes her way, and even if a Democrat does throw a hat in the ring later, the chances that person could pull much of the vote are slim to none.
At this point, the only thing that seems likely to make Murkowski’s chances worse would be for her old rival, Joe Miller, to step once more into the fray. Of course, there’s almost an entire year of campaigning and politicizing to be done between now and the midterm election, so speculation as to Murkowski’s chances at re-election is simply that – speculation. We’re shaking the old Magic 8 Ball, here – but so far, the answer seems to be “outlook not so good.”
~ Read more from James Fite.