Vexed by Murkowski’s vote to convict him during his second impeachment trial, former President Donald Trump threw his weight behind Kelly Tshibaka. With 50% of precincts reporting, Murkowski topped Tshibaka in the open primary by about 1,500 votes. The top four finishers will advance to the general election due to recent changes to Alaska’s voting laws, enabling the incumbent senator to advance to the general.
Tshibaka, who was previously the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration, fully embraced the MAGA mantle throughout the primary race and sought to position herself as an outsider looking to usher in an era of change by ending the 50-year Murkowski political dynasty.
“This is not a normal place when you have a lousy senator like Murkowski. … We’re going to do something about that,” Trump said at a rally in support of Tshibaka last month. “You’re going to fire your RINO senator — she’s worse than a RINO, Lisa Murkowski. She is the worst. I rate her No. 1 bad, and we have a couple of bad ones, but she’s by far the worst.”
Alongside Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), Murkowski was one of two high-profile impeachment-backing Republicans on the primary ballot on Tuesday. Murkowski was the only person in the Senate who voted to convict Trump during his second impeachment to face a primary challenge during this midterm election cycle. Three of the seven who voted to convict were up for reelection this year, but two of them, Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), declined to pursue reelection.
The Alaska Republican Party censured Murkowski for her vote to convict Trump and declared that she should not pursue reelection in 2022 as a Republican. Ignoring the state party, she did so anyways and enjoyed the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Impeachment is not the only issue that has rankled the conservative base. Murkowski has long been a supporter of abortion rights and has taken a more liberal stance on guns, infrastructure, healthcare, and more during her current term in office. She was the only Republican senator to vote against confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018.
Despite facing the wrath of the MAGA world, Murkowski enjoyed a sizable financial war chest to counter Tshibaka. She also drew a few notable endorsements, including from centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has faced similar ire from his own party, and fellow Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK).
Murkowski is no stranger to tough primary battles, having lost the GOP Senate nod in 2010 to a Tea Party challenger before staging a comeback write-in bid in the general election. Her upset victory in 2010 during a red-wave year marked the first time a sitting senator won an election as a write-in candidate in half a century.
Given the even split in the Senate, the race in Alaska has the chance to alter the partisan dynamic in the upper chamber. Murkowski has historically served as a key swing vote in the Senate.