The Field: Murkowski Meets Her Match for 2022


After months of murmured political threats lobbed from her ideological right, moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska met her first 2022 primary challenger on Monday afternoon.

But who is the “America first” Alaskan official nipping at her heels, and what are the odds of unseating a maverick legislator with more than 18 years experience in the state’s senior senatorial seat?

Here’s a look at the field as it begins to take shape:

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Who Is Kelly Tshibaka?

“We know what Washington, D.C., thinks about Alaska: We’re here for their benefit — we’re not going to put up much of a fight. After about 20 years in D.C., Lisa Murkowski thinks the same way.”

Those were the words of Murkowski’s first official challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, when she announced her candidacy in a scorched-earth video advertisement blasted across the airwaves on social media.

The longtime public servant had resigned her post as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration just an hour earlier, her resignation letter — a laundry list of accomplishments from her two-year tenure — released to the public on Facebook.

Do you support efforts to replace Murkowski in the 2022 election?

In the hours that followed, a “Kelly for Alaska” marketing campaign would establish its online footprint with a series of postings to draw up the battle lines.

Tshibaka was quick on the draw, declaring Murkowski “out of touch” with the Alaskan electorate. “She’s been voting with all of those D.C. insiders, especially the liberal ones, and she’s been hurting our way of life,” Tshibaka said.

Opposite the incumbent, she presented herself as the “conservative, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and America first” alternative. The challenger, who publicly opposed the 2020 presidential election result earlier this year, would also go on to highlight a 17-year post-graduate history investigating government waste at the federal level.

“I’m running for every Alaskan who believes that government is of the people, it’s by the people, it’s for the people,” Tshibaka said in her announcement video. “All those D.C. insiders really need to be held accountable to us.”

It was a clear play to the lingering anti-establishment sentiment dredged up by an early March assurance that former President Donald Trump would not, under any circumstances, be supporting Murkowski’s re-election bid.

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And What on Earth Is She Up Against?

But the senator is not without support in D.C. or the district. Prominent establishment figures have already begun coalescing behind her.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, preemptively signaled support for the incumbent at the start of the month, promising aid from the robust campaign arms of the GOP and National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Junior Sen. Dan Sullivan was also quick to defend his Republican partner in the Alaskan delegation, telling ABC News host Jonathan Karl on Monday that their differences would not prevent him from endorsing her.

“Look, we don’t agree on everything, but we make a good team for Alaska,” Sullivan said.

This does not change the fact that a McCain-like maverick streak has made Murkowski a clear target for more traditionally conservative players in the Alaskan political scene.

Despite voting with Trump an average of 72 percent of the time throughout his four-year tenure, Murkowski has quickly fallen out of favor in light of the 116th Congress, having broken with Republican leadership roughly half the time over a two-year period. Her split votes on impeachment and the Supreme Court confirmations of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett only serve to further separate the senator from an increasingly conservative base.

According to Newsweek, a Trump-commissioned McLaughlin and Associates poll found that just 43 percent of Alaskans viewed Murkowski favorably.

On less partisan grounds, Murkowski fared no better, as YouGov ranked the senator 86th in terms of favorability among Senate Republicans, with just 13 percent of respondents sharing a favorable view of her. Public Policy Polling found the senator in better standing last June, with 29 percent favorability — but those numbers are hard to celebrate with the same poll suggesting 55 percent disapproval.

Given the infamous former Gov. Sarah Palin is also considered a threat following social media allusions to a 2022 challenge, there seems no question the Arctic winds may soon shift against Murkowski.

Efforts to oust the senior senator were recently complicated, however, when the state of Alaska passed the controversial Ballot Measure 2, which establishes a single primary for candidates of every party. From here on out, the four most popular candidates in the race will advance to the general election, where a ranked-choice vote will determine the winner.

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Andrew J. Sciascia was the supervising editor of features at The Western Journal. Having joined up as a regular contributor of opinion in 2018, he went on to cover the Barrett confirmation and 2020 presidential election for the outlet, regularly co-hosting its video podcast, "WJ Live," as well.
Andrew J. Sciascia was the supervising editor of features at The Western Journal and regularly co-hosted the outlet's video podcast, "WJ Live."

Sciascia first joined up with The Western Journal as a regular contributor of opinion in 2018, before graduating with a degree in criminal justice and political science from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and worked briefly as a political operative with the Massachusetts Republican Party.

He covered the Barrett confirmation and 2020 presidential election for The Western Journal. His work has also appeared in The Daily Caller.