Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has won reelection, fending off a challenge from a far-right Republican backed by former President Donald Trump.
Murkowski, who will now enter her fourth term in the Senate, defeated Kelly Tshibaka in the third round of her state’s new system of ranked-choice voting. She also defeated Democrat Patricia Chesbro. Murkowski won with nearly 54%.
“Thank you, Alaska,” Murkowski said in a statement Wednesday night. “I am honored that Alaskans ― of all regions, backgrounds and party affiliations ― have once again granted me their confidence to continue working with them and on their behalf in the U.S. Senate. I look forward to continuing the important work ahead of us.”
It took more than two weeks for Alaska election officials to tally the final results of the race. That was expected.
Under the state’s new system of elections, voters ranked their top four candidates — regardless of party affiliation — in the order of whom they wanted to win. Their second, third and fourth choices were only factored in if their first and later choices finished last and didn’t make it to the next round. The election ended as soon as one candidate got more than 50% of the vote.
Since neither Murkowski nor Tshibaka got 50% after the first-choice vote counts, election officials moved on to factor in second choice picks. In the end, Murkowski was the first to get a majority vote.
The Alaska senator, who regularly wins elections by catering to a broad base of moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats, certainly benefited from the state’s new election system, which voters approved in 2020. In the primary, all she had to do to advance was be one of the four top vote-getters. In the general election, Murkowski, who is easily the most moderate Republican in today’s Senate, was well positioned to pick up more votes across party lines as voters’ second- and third-ranked choices were factored in.
Murkowski had been a prime target for defeat by Trump, who has been vowing to unseat her ever since she was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict him for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Trump regularly attacks her and went to Alaska in July to stump for Tshibaka, a far-right social conservative 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. Buzz Kelley, a Republican who finished fourth in the Senate primary, stopped his campaign earlier this fall and threw his support behind Tshibaka as well.
The Murkowski-Tshibaka race evolved into a proxy fight between Trump and another one of his critics: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who directed millions of dollars into the state to support Murkowski. One GOP senator anonymously told NBC News last week, “Mitch has really taken some actions to poke at Trump.”
Not that Murkowski necessarily needed McConnell’s help. She already has a track record of taking on extremists — and her own 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 the Republican Party, including McConnell, she won.
The veteran senator also benefited from having stronger name recognition and more money. As of Oct. 19, Murkowski had raised $10.8 million and spent $8.7 million, with $2.2 million cash on hand, per OpenSecrets. Tshibaka, meanwhile, had raised $4.8 million, spent $4.2 million and had $692,000 cash on hand as of Oct. 19, per OpenSecrets.
Weeks before the election, Murkowski crossed party lines to endorse Democrat Mary Peltola in her race for Alaska’s lone House seat. And Peltola endorsed Murkowski. It might seem odd, but they have a lot in common, in addition to having known each other for years: Both were taking on Trump-backed candidates, both cast themselves as moderate and pro-choice candidates, and both are intensely focused on the needs of Native Alaskans.
Peltola won a special election in September to finish out the remainder of the late Republican Rep. Don Young’s term. And on Wednesday, she won a full term to the seat. She is the state’s first Indigenous person elected to federal office.
Murkowski certainly benefited by publicly associating herself with Peltola. She had a whopping 52% positive rating in a recent poll by Alaska Survey Research, compared to her two GOP challengers polling 20 points below her. In the same survey, Murkowski had a positive rating of 44% over Tshibaka’s 34%.