Conservative activists in Alaska aren’t pleased with GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s moves to the middle. Whether that makes the political scion vulnerable in her 2022 reelection bid is an open question, according to a new poll.
That’s because starting next year, Alaska will move to a “top four” and “ranked-choice” voting system. All candidates will appear together on one primary ballot, with the top four advancing to the general election.
In November, Alaska voters will rank candidates in order of preference. Assuming no candidate gets above 50%, the last-place candidate is removed in each round of balloting until somebody has a majority.
Some believe this voting system will favor Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka, who has criticized Murkowski for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump in his second trial and backing some of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees, among other things. Murkowski also drew criticism from the Right after she became the lone Republican to oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation in the fall of 2018.
Murkowski placed third in a May 22-25 poll by the Democratic firm Change Research, winning the support from 19% of the 1,023 likely Alaska voters surveyed.
She trailed Democratic-aligned candidate and Independent Al Gross with 25%, as well as Tshibaka, who led the poll with 39%.
The poll was taken about a month before Trump endorsed Tshibaka, and before Tshibaka launched an ad about the endorsement.
Yet, how that support shakes out is an open question in the Aug. 16, 2022, primary and later in the general election.
The ranked-choice system has produced surprising results elsewhere.
This week’s New York City mayoral race used a ranked-choice system to pick its primary winner, and some polls forecast Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will finish first.
Overall, three Republicans and two independent challengers to Murkowski are expected to run in the primary. Additional candidates may still be filing their paperwork.
Murkowski has not always breezed to reelection since her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, appointed her to the seat in 2002.
In 2010, she lost a Republican primary challenge to Tea Party candidate and attorney Joe Miller. Murkowski ultimately prevailed after mounting a successful write-in campaign, relying on Democrats and independents to win the general election.
Poll numbers suggest Murkowski may face a tough reelection bid next year.
In April, an all-party primary survey released by GOP polling firm Cygnal showed Tshibaka leading Murkowski with 33.6% of the vote to Murkowski’s 18.8%. Gross came in third with 17.6%, and two other candidates picked up low single-digit numbers. Twenty-one percent were undecided.
While the Republican senator is known on Capitol Hill as a centrist lawmaker eager to work across the aisle to secure significant legislative deals, her collaboration with Democrats has put her at odds with some of her GOP base back home.
She’ll also have to face off against Trump, who has vowed to push her out of office since she announced her opposition to Kavanaugh nearly three years ago.
Trump prevailed over President Joe Biden in Alaska by a 10-point margin in the 2020 presidential election, and he still holds considerable sway within the GOP base.
Murkowski will battle a disillusioned Republican base, as well as Trump’s wrath, which could ultimately erode critical support.
But she’ll have the backing of the powerful Republicans campaign arm and the Senate GOP leadership.
The Senate Leadership Fund, aligned with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, endorsed Murkowski, which will help her battle Tshibaka and the team of former Trump advisers helping Tshibaka’s campaign.
While political analysts expect Murkowski to run for another term, she has yet to announce her decision.
“I have been doing everything that a good incumbent does in terms of preserving my options,” Murkowski told reporters in April. “I”m visiting with Alaskans, spending a lot of time, as much time on the ground as I can, and raising money.”