Lisa Murkowski — one of few Republicans willing to break party ranks — won Alaska’s U.S. Senate race on Wednesday, fending off a challenge from Kelly Tshibaka, a right-wing Republican backed by Trump.
Murkowski earned more than 43% of first-choice votes. Tshibaka, a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration, earned under 43%, trailing the incumbent by just over 2,000 votes. Democrat Pat Chesbro, a retired educator, earned 10%. Republican Buzz Kelley had 3%.
After ranked choice votes were tabulated on Wednesday afternoon, Murkowski emerged with 53.7% of votes ahead of Tshibaka’s 46.3%. More than two-thirds of Chesbro’s voters ranked Murkowski second.
The race was widely seen as a referendum on Trump and his grip on the Republican Party. Murkowski was censured by the Alaska GOP leadership, which endorsed Tshibaka, after the senator voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Tshibaka moved back to Alaska in 2019 after an 18-year career working in nonpartisan roles for the federal government in Washington, D.C. After two years in state government, Tshibaka quit to spend nearly 20 months campaigning, much of that time dedicated to attacking Murkowski for her record of bipartisanship and willingness to support key nominees of President Joe Biden.
Murkowski’s campaign focused on her experience working on bipartisan legislation, including her role in crafting the federal infrastructure bill that stands to bring billions to Alaska for projects including broadband, ferry improvements and port construction.
She also highlighted her record as one of only two Senate Republicans open to codifying abortion access in federal law, after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned nearly five decades of federal protection for the procedure.
Murkowski benefited from a new election system in Alaska adopted by voters through ballot initiative in 2020. The initiative, crafted and backed by Murkowski’s allies, did away with partisan primaries, which would have pitted Murkowski against Tshibaka in a head-to-head August race. Instead, the top four vote-getters — regardless of party — advanced to the general election.
Murkowski also had support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose leadership PAC spent millions on ads attacking Tshibaka, raising the ire of Republican leaders nationwide who hoped to see more spending on competitive Senate races elsewhere.
Thanks to a coalition of supporters that included Alaska Native groups, labor organizations and voters from across the political spectrum, Murkowski earned more votes than Tshibaka in both the primary and general election, in a clear rebuke of Trump.
Trump had promised to campaign against Murkowski in 2020; she had openly defied him during his presidency even when many of her GOP colleagues feared doing so. Trump made good on that promise in July, when he held a rally in Anchorage that included Tshibaka. The former president spent more time railing against Murkowski — who he has called “worse than a RINO” — than advocating for Tshibaka.
Murkowski was first appointed to the U.S. Senate in 2002 by her father, former Sen. Frank Murkowski, when he won a race for Alaska governor. Murkowski defied political odds when she won a write-in campaign in 2010 after losing the Republican primary to a right-wing challenger. She is now set to hold the seat for another six-year term.
“I am honored that Alaskans — of all regions, backgrounds and party affiliations — have once again granted me their confidence to continue working with them and on their behalf in the U.S. Senate. I look forward to continuing the important work ahead of us,” Murkowski said in a statement.
Tshibaka, who previously hinted she may challenge the results, conceded the race in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s clear from the ranked choice tabulations that Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been reelected, and I congratulate her on that,” Tshibaka said.
She went on to criticize the state’s new voting system, calling it “an incumbent-protection program,” and lamented McConnell’s support for Murkowski, accusing the Senate minority leader of spending money to secure “a Senate minority that he can control, as opposed to a majority that he could not.”
Tshibaka said she will “continue to fight for Alaska,” but will “take some time to reflect upon what that may look like.”
• • •