2022 midterms

Lisa Murkowski Backs Democrat Over Sarah Palin

Alaska’s new Democratic House member and its veteran Republican senator are cross-endorsing. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

Alaska’s senior Republican senator and its brand-new (and only) U.S. House member have a lot in common. Both Senator Lisa Murkowski and Congresswoman Mary Peltola are self-consciously centrist women who favor abortion rights, are battling candidates backed by Donald Trump, and are unusually dependent on support from Alaska’s Native population (Peltola is, in fact, the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress). So it wasn’t entirely shocking when these longtime friends casually endorsed each other at an Alaska Federation of Natives convention, as the Washington Post reported:

“Mary is a woman whose heart is as grounded in Alaska as anybody you’re going to find,” Murkowski told reporters after the event, wearing a gold-colored, paisley-patterned kuspuk, common Alaska Indigenous clothing Peltola gave her last year.

Asked if she would rank Peltola first on her ballot next month in Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system, Murkowski paused. After a full 18 seconds, she said, “Yeah, I am.” She then mumbled, “I’m going to get in so much trouble.”

Asked to respond to Murkowski’s de facto endorsement, Peltola said, “I’m voting for her, so we’re even-steven.”

Peltola knows she needs some bipartisan support in what is still a strongly Republican-leaning state. Upon defeating former governor and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin in a special election to fill the vacancy left by the death of longtime Republican congressman Don Young in March, she immediately hired well-known Young staffers and positioned herself as heir to his legacy of single-minded focus on securing federal funding and natural-resource and environmental policies favorable to the state. In November, she’s facing Palin again for a full House term, along with Sarah Barracuda’s Republican rival Nick Begich III and libertarian Chris Bye.

As in the special election that sent Peltola to Washington, Alaska voters will rank the candidates, and the Democrat again will need support (or at least ranked-choice abstentions) from disgruntled supporters of whichever Republican finishes third and thus doesn’t make the final round. Begich supporters’ unwillingness to give Palin second-round support was a decisive factor in the special election, and now Palin is not cooperating with an effort to convince Republicans to ensure a united front against Peltola, as the Post notes:

Palin, who has shown frustration with Begich throughout the campaign, has not fully endorsed the plan.

“Because I’ve thumped Nick three times now, and I’ll thump him again, he should have supported my candidacy,” she said in an interview.

Meanwhile, Murkowski, who has now been in the Senate for 20 years, is in an equally complex contest facing Trump endorsee and longtime federal bureaucrat Kelly Tshibaka and Democrat Pat Chesbro. Murkowski isn’t just battling a Trump surrogate; Tshibaka is being formally backed by the state GOP, which is perpetually annoyed by Murkowski’s ideological and partisan heresies (e.g., supporting abortion rights, voting for conviction in Trump’s second impeachment trial, and voting against Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation). But she has a history of bucking her party in elections, notably in 2010, when she lost her primary and still won another term via a rare write-in campaign that benefited from a strong Native vote on her behalf.

Sparse polling has indicated that both the Senate and House races will be close, but at the moment, the quasi-ticket of Murkowski and Peltola appears to have a slight advantage over the MAGA ticket of Tshibaka and Palin. The Post reports:

A new poll to be released Monday afternoon by Alaska Survey Research of 1,276 likely voters found that Peltola has a 52 percent positive rating from respondents, compared to 32 percent for Begich and 33 percent for Palin and that Peltola would win in the second round of counting with 51 percent. The survey also found that Murkowski has a positive rating of 44 percent compared to 34 percent for Tshibaka but that it would likely take three rounds of counting for Murkowski to win.

That’s because Murkowski has three opponents, but there’s no question the final two will be the incumbent and Tshibaka. And while Murkowski and Peltola have a lot in common, so, too, do Tshibaka and Palin, even though the former is a new face in Alaska politics while the latter last won an election in 2006. Both of these Trump-endorsed women are self-identified conservative Christians with a Pentecostal background, and are hostile to the alleged RINO Establishment of their national party (Tshibaka regularly attacks Mitch McConnell, who is backing Murkowski with strong financial assistance).

The ranked-choice voting system means that we will not know the winner of either Alaska race until after November 8. Fans of bipartisan centrism are counting on Peltola and Murkowski to break the mold. And the outcome of the Alaska contest may influence other states mulling ranked-choice voting as a way to put centripetal pressure on a polarized political system (Nevada voters will decide in November whether to adopt a similar system). But Alaska’s exotic politics may not be exportable.

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Lisa Murkowski Backs Democrat Over Sarah Palin