News-Miner opinion: In what should be no real surprise, the Alaska Republican Party State Central Committee has endorsed challenger Kelly Tshibaka over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2022 U.S. Senate race.
The 58-17 vote during the committee’s meeting in Fairbanks underscores the schism in the state Republican Party and smoldering resentment in some quarters about Murkowski’s middle-of-the-road politics many see as being at odds with conservative values.
She never has been an automatic “yes” vote for Republicans, and earlier this year, rankled by her criticism of former President Donald Trump, GOP leaders vowed to recruit an opponent to challenge her.
The State Central Committee overwhelmingly voted March 13 to censure her for her vote to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, along with other votes that put her at odds with GOP leadership in the Senate. Trump endorsed Tshibaka, pledged to campaign for her and said, “Lisa Murkowski is bad for Alaska.”
Murkowski, in office since her father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, appointed her in 2002 to fill the remainder of his Senate term, has not yet filed for re-election.
While Murkowski has an easily dissected political history, Tshibaka is a bit of a political unknown to most Alaskans.
She led Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Department of Administration as commissioner for a little more than two years before she resigned to run for U.S. Senate. Prior to that, she spent 17 years in the offices of the inspector general for the U.S. Postal Service, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice.
So far, and this is early in the campaign, mind you, her rhetoric, touting things such as “Alaska values,” and Alaska’s being “sacred” seems generalized and unfocused, with not much in the way of detail. She wrote in a May 31 piece in the Anchorage Daily News:
“I have a fire in my heart to rebuild Alaska, and I believe that embracing the blessings of our bountiful natural resources is the key to that future.”
That sounds great, but what does it mean? For success, her campaign will have to come up with specifics and policies that make sense to reach Alaskans.
To complicate the race, Alaska’s new election regimen, if it survives a court challenge, will be in effect for the 2022 contest. It does away with traditional party primary elections, where Murkowski would have been most vulnerable, replacing them with a “jungle” primary, where anybody can run, from any party, and the top four vote-getters advance to the general election. What that would mean for either candidate is unknown.
Then, there is Murkowski’s ability to pull a rabbit out of hat. She lost the 2016 GOP primary election to Joe Miller, but then mounted an historic write-in campaign, defeating him in the general election, leaving a trail of hard feelings in some GOP quarters. It was the first time since then-Democrat Strom Thurmond won a 1954 write-in effort in South Carolina that a senator had managed to win a write-in campaign.
Tshibaka, with no experience in a high-stakes Senate race, and Murkowski, if she decides to run with no official party support, both face hurdles.
The upcoming election promises to be one for the books.