Defeated in the 2010 Alaska GOP primary by a conservative challenger, liberal Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski defied the odds and ran a successful write-in campaign for reelection.
Ms. Murkowski — who had been appointed to the seat in 2002 by her father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, in a move that gave nepotism a bad name — won that 2010 race with just 39.5% of the vote in a three-way race. That was the lowest share of the vote for a winning Senate candidate in 40 years.
Fast-forward to today. Ms. Murkowski is again running for reelection and is even less popular now with the GOP base than she was in 2010.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone after Ms. Murkowski voted against conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2018, but then turned around and voted in favor of liberal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination earlier this year, or after she voted to convict President Donald J. Trump, a fellow Republican, of baseless, Democratic-driven charges of incitement to insurrection in his second impeachment trial. (After the impeachment vote, Ms. Murkowski was censured by the Alaska Republican Party.)
If all that weren’t bad enough, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, which tracks congressional votes, Ms. Murkowski voted with Mr. Trump’s positions just 73% of the time, second-lowest only to her fellow liberal Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. In the first nine months of the Biden administration, however, Ms. Murkowski voted with the positions of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, nearly 79% of the time.
No doubt fearing another primary challenge (and the unlikely prospect of successfully pulling off another write-in campaign), Ms. Murkowski and her allies in 2020 orchestrated a change to Alaska’s election laws.
Enter ranked-choice voting, a cockeyed, convoluted process in which voters rank candidates in order of preference on their ballots, as explained by Ballotpedia.com: “If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots.
“A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.”
It’s only because of Machiavellian Murkowski (and her ranked-choice voting scheme) that a Democrat now holds Alaska’s at-large House seat for the first time since 1972. Rep. Mary Peltola won the seat in an August special election held to replace Republican Rep. Don Young, who died in March after holding the seat for nearly 50 years.
In her own case, Ms. Murkowski’s orchestrating the switch to ranked-choice voting could yet prove to be too clever by half. But clearly, she’s counting on it to save her from political extinction.
A Fabrizio/Anzalone poll of 500 likely voters, conducted Sept. 6-11, found Ms. Murkowski’s conservative Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, leading the incumbent by 8 percentage points, 46% to 38%. The Democrats’ sacrificial-lamb nominee in bright red Alaska, Patricia Chesbro, registered a distant third at 14%.
In a traditional, one-and-done election (or even one where a runoff is required when no candidate wins 50%-plus-one of the vote), Ms. Tshibaka would appear to be poised to end Ms. Murkowski’s 20-year senatorial career. But the incumbent is obviously counting on Ms. Chesbro’s voters — i.e., Democrats — dragging her across the finish line in the second round of counting after the Democrat is eliminated in the first tally.
Suzanne Downing, writing at MustReadAlaska.com on Oct. 6, drew the contrast between the two Republicans this way: “Murkowski is pro-abortion, pro-gun control, and anti-Trump. Tshibaka is pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, and pro-Trump.”
Ms. Tshibaka’s “pro-Trump” stance likely explains why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, is squandering a reported $6.5 million on petty and vindictive intraparty attack ads against her on Ms. Murkowski’s behalf.
If Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, is actually interested in winning back control of the Senate for the GOP, he should butt out of the Senate race in Alaska. Those millions of dollars would be better spent on tight Senate races where GOP challengers could flip Democratic-held seats, like in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Washington state.
Alaska Republicans should resent Mr. McConnell’s gratuitous interference in the race and the way Ms. Murkowski has manipulated this “heads I win, tails you lose” game. They should vote for Ms. Tshibaka on Nov. 8, and definitely not vote for Ms. Murkowski as their “second choice,” which would only help rescue an out-of-step incumbent.