- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski sought to fend off attacks from two of her rivals during their final debate before Tuesday’s election.

Libertarian Joe Miller and independent Margaret Stock went after the incumbent Republican Thursday night over her position on the Senate’s approach to President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

They also tried to cast Murkowski as part of the problem in an ineffective and broken Congress.

Also participating in the statewide public media debate was Democrat Ray Metcalfe, who has feuded with party leaders who have done little to advance his candidacy. Metcalfe’s focus has been on fighting political corruption.

Murkowski noted that her three main rivals all used to have different party affiliations than they have now. She said she hasn’t changed her party label to be someone she’s not for purposes of an election.

“I have remained true to Alaska,” she said.

This was only the second time that Murkowski and Miller have shared the stage at a debate or candidate forum this election. This race is a rematch between the two. In 2010, Miller beat Murkowski in the GOP primary but Murkowski won the general election as a write-in candidate.

Miller joined the Libertarian ticket in September when that party’s candidate withdrew.

Miller said that, if elected, he would do everything he could to support the confirmation of anti-abortion judges.

“If we don’t protect life … then what rights are up for grabs? I think they’re all up for grabs,” he said.

Murkowski’s position on abortion has proven problematic for her with some in her party’s more conservative wing.

She said she doesn’t like abortion but recognizes and has supported the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a nationwide right to abortion. She said she has supported “unequivocally” the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal money from covering abortions. But she also said she supports ensuring that women have access to needed health care services, including those they might get at Planned Parenthood.

Metcalfe supports abortion rights and said he would support funding Planned Parenthood.

“I have no desire to control a uterus, frankly,” he said.

The Senate for months has refused to take up Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, with Republicans arguing the next president should fill the existing opening.

Murkowski has said there needs to be a confirmation process but also said she respected the position of the Senate Judiciary Committee chair who decided not to have a hearing.

Murkowski said the vacancy needs to be filled and said she believed it would be once there is a new president.

Stock said the Senate’s inaction on the nominee amounts to obstructionism and said it’s a cop-out to blame what’s happening on the Judiciary Committee.

During this race, Murkowski has touted her experience and her willingness to work across party lines.

Stock, who has won support from factions of the Democratic party, has struggled to raise money to compete against the well-financed Murkowski. An immigration attorney, Stock has cast herself as “all work and no party,” a nod to her indie status, and expressed frustration with a two-party system she sees as falling short, particularly in acting on judicial nominees.

Miller sees himself as an outsider, too. While he has said he would caucus with Republicans if elected, Miller said they will have “much more difficulty controlling me.” Outside the two-party system, you have the opportunity to be “a real pain in the butt, in ways that others can’t be, if you really have the backbone to do it,” he said in an interview last month.

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