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Murkowski, Palin advance to November in Alaska races

Young’s death means House seat open for the first time since 1973

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, advanced from the state's new primary system, which puts candidates of all parties on one ballot and sends the top four vote-getters on to the November election.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, advanced from the state's new primary system, which puts candidates of all parties on one ballot and sends the top four vote-getters on to the November election. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict then-President Donald Trump after his 2021 impeachment trial, easily advanced out of an all-party primary Tuesday, along with Trump-backed challenger Kelly Tshibaka.

The state’s new election system had 19 Senate candidates of all parties on one ballot, with the top four advancing to the November ballot, where voters will rank their choices in order of preference. The other two Senate candidates had not yet been called by The Associated Press with an estimated 61 percent counted Wednesday morning, and ballots received over the next two weeks will be counted.

Murkowski, the only GOP impeachment supporter seeking reelection in the Senate this year, was the top vote-getter in early returns. She had 43 percent to 41 percent for Tshibaka, a former commissioner in the Alaska Department of Administration. The AP called those races at 1:41 a.m. Eastern time. No other candidate broke 7 percent, and the other third and fourth winners had not been called early Wedensday.

Likewise, no winner had been declared in the special general election to fill the remainder of the late Rep. Don Young‘s term in the House. But in the simultaneous primary for full term in the House next year, the November ballot will include two Republicans, former Gov. Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, and Democrat Mary Peltola.

Peltola, a former member of the state House and interim executive director of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, was the top vote-getter in early returns in both the primary and the special election. Next came Palin, the 2008 Republican candidate for vice president who Trump has endorsed, and then Begich, whose grandfather held the seat when was presumed killed in a plane crash in 1972. Young won a 1973 special election and held the seat until his death in March.

There was no fourth candidate on the ballot in the special election, because the fourth winner of the primary, 2020 Democratic Senate candidate Al Gross, dropped out. But there were several write-in candidates competing.

For the first time in the state, voters ranked their choices in the special election in order of preference. Once all ballots are received, if no candidate has over 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the lowest total is eliminated and those votes are assigned to the voter’s second choice. The process of elimination continues until one candidate gets over 50 percent.

Independent approach

That process will be used in November for the general election for Senate and House as well, and could spare Murkowski from Trump’s effort to rid Congress of Republicans who crossed him. In Wyoming on Tuesday, Rep. Liz Cheney became the fourth House Republican to lose a primary after voting to impeach Trump in 2021 on charges of inciting the rioters who attacked the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6, 2021.

Murkowski is best known in the Senate for her independent-minded approach to legislation and confirmation votes. During her tenure in the chamber, she has voted just over half the time, 51 percent, with the GOP on votes that broke along party lines, according to CQ Vote Watch. She’s voted with her Republican peers for many issues important to the party, but she remains at odds with the GOP over ideological fronts like social issues and health care. She relishes her role as a senator who obscures the line between voting with her party and not.

During the four years of the Trump administration, her rift with him was not particularly apparent in her voting record when she sided with his stated position on policy 95 percent, according to CQ Vote Watch.

But she was a vocal critic of his presidency, especially after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

She joined the Senate in 2002, when her father, Frank H. Murkowski, appointed her to his old seat after he was elected governor. Murkowski won her first full term in 2004 with 49 percent of the vote.  

But her 2010 campaign was a dramatic affair involving a battle with Tea Party conservatives. Murkowski lost the Republican primary to challenger Joe Miller by 2,006 votes, then re-entered the race as a write-in candidate. With 39 percent of the vote, she became the first write-in candidate to win a Senate race since Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in 1954.

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