Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a centrist Republican running for a fourth full term in Washington, has advanced in the general election along with her main challenger, Kelly Chibaka, in the state Senate primary race, according to the Associated Press.
Ms. Murkowski and Ms. Tshibaka won enough votes to advance to the fall general election as part of Alaska’s new open primary system. Ms. Murkowski hopes to fend off a conservative backlash against her Senate vote to impeach former President Donald J. Trump for inciting the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
With about 50 percent of the vote counted, Ms. Murkowski and Ms. Tshibaka were neck and neck with just over 40 percent each. The closest rival after them was in single digits.
Ballots are still being counted and two other candidates will also move forward as part of the state’s top four system, but it’s not clear which two.
Ms. Murkowski, 65, is the only Senate Republican on the ballot this year to vote to convict Mr. Trump in the impeachment trial. She has been outspoken about her frustration with Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, although she has maintained support for the Republican Senate campaign.
She has also repeatedly crossed the aisle to support bipartisan compromises and Democratic candidates, including the nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court and the confirmation of Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior. And she is one of only two Senate Republicans who support abortion rights and expressed dismay at the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a move that eliminated the constitutional right to abortion after nearly 50 years.
Those positions rallied both national and local Republicans against her, and her impeachment vote earned her a rebuke from the Alaska Republican Party. Mr. Trump, angered by her vote to impeach him, urged his supporters to rally behind Ms. Chibaka, a former commissioner in the Alaska Department of Administration who has become an “America First” candidate who could more adequately represents conservatives in the state.
“It is clear that we are at a point where the next senator can either stand behind Alaska or continue to enable the disastrous Biden administration that is doing us more harm every day,” Ms. Chibaka wrote in an opinion essay. published days before the primaries. “When I am Alaska’s next senator, I will never forget the Alaskans who elected me, and I will always stand up for the values of the people of this great state.”
But the new open primary system, coupled with the use of ranked-choice voting in the general election, was designed in part with centrist candidates like Ms. Murkowski in mind and was supported by her allies in the popularly independent state.
Voters in November can rank their top four candidates. If no candidate receives a majority, officials will eliminate the last-place finisher and redistribute the votes of his supporters to the voters’ second choice until one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
Although she has never crossed that threshold in previous elections, Ms. Murkowski has overcome difficult odds before: In 2010, she memorably triumphed with a write-in campaign after a stunning primary loss to a Tea Party challenger. That victory came in large part thanks to a coalition of Alaska Natives and centrists.
Ms. Murkowski used her seniority and bipartisan credentials to make her case to Alaska voters, highlighting the billions of dollars she has directed to the state through her role on the Senate Appropriations Committee and her role in passing bipartisan infrastructure legislation for $1 trillion.
She cited her friendships with Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and the legacy of Alaska lawmakers like former Sen. Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young, who died in March, to show she still has a seat in Congress. for her style of legislation.
“You have to demonstrate that there are other possibilities, that there is a different reality — and maybe it won’t work,” Ms. Murkowski said in an interview this year. “Maybe I’m just completely politically naive and that ship has sailed. But I won’t know unless we — unless I — hang in there and give Alaskans a chance to weigh in.”
But her rivals are seeking to capitalize on the disillusionment with Ms. Murkowski in both parties. As well as calling her too liberal for the state, Ms Chibaka seized on simmering resentment over how Ms Murkowski’s father, Frank, chose her to finish out his term as a senator when he became governor in 2002.
Alice McFadden contributed reporting.