Alaska Republican Party officials are looking to former governor and tea party favorite Sarah Palin as a potential primary challenger to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has drawn their ire for her vote to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.
Of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Mr. Trump, Ms. Murkowski is the only one up for reelection in 2022.
It’s put a mama bear-size bull’s-eye on the three-term senator.
Republican Party leaders in her home state say their frustration with Ms. Murkowski goes beyond the impeachment vote, however. They are also irked by her pro-choice views and anti-Trump rhetoric. Conservatives point to her vote against confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and her support of the Affordable Care Act as further reasons to replace her.
“Everywhere I go, people have been disgruntled with Murkowski for a long time,” said Barbara Tyndall, GOP chair for Alaska’s 3rd District, which covers the North Pole and Chena Lakes. “Everybody is saying, ‘Yes, we need a primary challenger now.’”
Ms. Palin, who served as Alaska’s ninth governor and the Republican Party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee on the ticket with John McCain, is an early favorite among conservatives. But she isn’t the only possible contender for the race. Alaska Gov. Michael James Dunleavy, who has been in office since 2018, is being prodded by some in the party.
Neither Ms. Palin nor Mr. Dunleavy immediately responded to a request for comment about a primary challenge.
When the Republican Party state committee meets March 12, one item on the agenda will be to decide who they back in a primary against Ms. Murkowski, Ms. Tyndall said.
Ms. Murkowski has been serving in the Senate since 2002 when her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, appointed her to finish his term after he won the governorship.
She has won three full terms to the Senate but has never won a majority of the vote. She won 48.6% of the vote in 2004, 39.5% in 2010 and 44.4% in 2016.
Ms. Murkowski, known as a moderate swing vote in the upper chamber, immediately recognized her move to convict Mr. Trump could hamper her reelection.
“It’s not about me and my job is to — it’s truly about what we stand for,” she told reporters on Capitol Hill shortly after the vote. “There are consequences with every vote and this was consequential on many levels but I cannot allow my vote, the significance of my vote, to be devalued by whether or not I feel this is helpful for my political ambitions.”
The repercussions back home included at least five of the state House districts approving resolutions to censure Ms. Murkowski, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
Members of the state party are also working on a censure resolution.
Ms. Murkowski wouldn’t be alone in being censured. Several lawmakers who backed impeachment have been denounced by their home state GOPs, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina. Like Ms. Murkowski, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey is also facing a pending censure.
Unlike Ms. Murkowski, Mr. Burr and Mr. Toomey are not seeking reelection in 2022.
Alaska also recently passed a measure approving rank choice voting, which allows people to vote for multiple candidates in order of preference rather than picking just one.
Ranked choice voting, however, is being challenged in the courts. The Alaskan Independence Party argued the system violates the right of free political association.
Alaska is a state where there are more registered independent voters than Republicans or Democrats, which makes a moderate like Ms. Murkowski a good candidate.
She’s weathered primary storms in the past from disgruntled Alaskan Republicans.
Ms. Murkowski lost the 2010 primary to a tea party-backed candidate, Joe Miller. She then ran as a write-in candidate and won, defeating both Mr. Miller and the Democratic candidate to keep her Senate seat.
Republican strategist Amy Koch said Ms. Murkowski still has a high chance of winning reelection and her impeachment vote won’t leave a lasting scar.
“She knows Alaska. She has been under fire before,” Ms. Koch said. “I do think it is still an issue but I don’t think it is as strong and I do believe it diminishes as time passes.”
• Alex Swoyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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