CNN thinks Murkowski still has a chance
Reporting on Alaska GOP Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka's strong showing in recent polls and President Trump's recent endorsement, CNN's Chris Cillizza admits that incumbent Lisa Murkowski is in trouble but thinks she's still got a shot at winning. "She's not a lost cause just yet," he claims. He bases his tepid optimism on three factors:
"She has a very well-known name." It's true that the Murkowski political dynasty has held a seat in the U.S. Senate for 40 consecutive years. But it's not true that there is something politically positive about the name. The founder of the dynasty, Frank Murkowski, was humiliated when he ran for re-election as governor in 2006. In the Republican primary that year, he came in third, with 19% of the vote. I don't believe that a sitting governor has been more roundly repudiated in American political history. He lost, essentially, because of his arrogance. His daughter has the same problem. Ominously, the most recent poll shows Lisa Murkowski's support is at — 19%! Spooky.
"Alaska has an open primary." While it's true that Prop. 2, which introduced the jungle primary to Alaska, means that Murkowski can avoid certain loss in a Republican primary, this may not redound entirely to her advantage. If, as expected, the Alaska GOP adopts a rule that calls for a party endorsement at the state convention, Tshibaka will win an overwhelming majority of delegates and emerge as the Republican Party's unquestioned choice. Murkowski would be wise not to place her name before the convention. Her support would probably be in single digits.
"Alaska has ranked choice voting." But if the past is any guide, and it usually is, ranked choice voting will result in more electoral victories for conservative candidates in Alaska. Over the past 40 years, when conservatives have split their votes, Democrats get elected. Now, under the instant runoff system, voters who supported the second-place conservative can switch to the leader in the second round.
Democrat governors Sheffield (1982), Cowper (1986), and Knowles (1994) were all elected with a minority of votes. In each case, Libertarian or Alaska Independence Party (AIP) candidates pulled votes from the Republican, and the Democrat won. In 2008, Mark Begich beat Senator Ted Stevens by only 48%-47%. Without the AIP candidate in the race, Stevens could have pulled it off. There have been countless legislative races where Alaska conservatives have split their vote, allowing the Democrat to win.
In the past 46 years, Alaska has had around 50 statewide elections, for governor, U.S. senator, and U.S. representative. A Democrat got a majority of the vote once — Tony Knowles was re-elected in 1998 with 51% of the vote. But that was a special year. The Alaska GOP repudiated its own nominee, John Lindauer, and endorsed the write-in campaign of Robin Taylor. In a normal election, without the corrupt and fraudulent Lindauer, Taylor would have won.
The liberal dark money groups behind Prop. 2 weren't trying to help conservatives with ranked choice voting, of course. This initiative was designed for one, express purpose: to help Lisa Murkowski get re-elected. But there are certain dubious assumptions built into this scheme. First and foremost, Murkowski must finish ahead of the Democrat in the first round. Second, Democrat voters must overwhelmingly prefer Murkowski to Tshibaka. Third, Tshibaka cannot reach 50% plus one without Democrat or Murkowski votes.
In congressional elections, Alaska is a bright red state. Now that Tshibaka just got President Trump's endorsement, she has united the entire Republican Party behind her. The 2022 off-year congressional election looks to be a wave for Republican conservatives nationally, and Kelly Tshibaka can ride that wave right into the United States Senate.
Fritz Pettyjohn was Deputy Campaign Manager of Murkowski for Senate, 1980. Donations to Tshibaka should be sent to KellyforAK.com.
Image: Kelly Tshibaka and Lisa Murkowski, both from YouTube screen grabs.
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