Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) comfortably advanced in Tuesday’s all-party primary election, setting her up against three challengers in November ― including one backed by former President Donald Trump ― in her state’s new system of ranked-choice voting.
It’s no surprise that Murkowski moved forward; she’s an incumbent senator running for her fourth term.
What’s more interesting is Alaska’s election process itself: Under its new system, primary elections no longer pit Republicans against Republicans and Democrats against Democrats. Instead, all candidates compete against each other, regardless of party affiliation, and the four candidates with the most votes compete in the general election in November. That election, too, will use ranked-choice voting.
Nineteen candidates were on Tuesday’s ballot, including Democratic frontrunner Pat Chesbro and Murkowski’s biggest GOP rival, Kelly Tshibaka. Trump, who has vowed to unseat Murkowski ever since she was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict him for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, has been stumping for Tshibaka, a far-right socially conservative candidate who once wrote in support of an “ex-gay” organization and warned of the evils of “addictive” witchcraft.
The leaders of Alaska’s Republican Party also endorsed Tshibaka, who previously ran the state’s Department of Administration. Their endorsement came a few months after they voted 53-17 to censure Murkowski for voting to impeach Trump.
But Murkowski has already shown she’s not afraid to take on extremists in her party. In 2010, when she unexpectedly lost her primary to a tea party candidate, she launched a write-in campaign featuring now-famous ads that carefully spelled out her name. In a stunning feat, and without any support from her party, she won.
Beyond that, the longtime Republican senator certainly benefits from the state’s new election system, which voters approved in 2020. In the primary, all Murkowski had to do was be one of the four top vote-getters to advance. In the general election, Murkowski, who is easily the most moderate Republican in today’s Senate, is likely to pull votes from Republicans, independents and Democrats as they rank their top picks.
Alaska’s general election will essentially function like an instant runoff. Voters’ second, third and fourth choices are only factored in if their first and later choices finish last and don’t make it to the next round. The election ends when one candidate gets more than 50%.
Murkowski also benefits from having stronger name recognition and more money than Tshibaka. The Republican senator has $5.3 million cash on hand as of July 27th, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures, compared to Tshibaka’s roughly $808,000 cash on hand. That’s more than five times as much campaign cash.
It doesn’t mean Murkowski has this in the bag in November. But heading into the primary, she knew she could breathe a little easier this time around.
“There’s no great anticipation about whether or not Lisa Murkowski is going to advance,” she told the Washington Post on Sunday, in between a stop at a renewable energy fair and a soak in a pool at a local hot springs resort. “So, it does have a different feel.”