U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, speaks to reporters after filing for re-election Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at the Division of Elections office in Anchorage, Alaska, setting up a race against a primary challenger endorsed by former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Murkowski makes candidacy official

With stong party challengers, Alaska’s incumbent re-files

Lisa Murkowski officially announced Friday she was running to keep her seat in the U.S. Senate.

The Republican senator for Alaska was expected to run — and has accumulated a race-leading war chest — but it wasn’t until Friday’s video announcement that Murkowski declared her candidacy.

Murkowski also officially filed her paperwork Friday at the Alaska Division of Elections offices in Anchorage. Speaking to the press after she filed, Murkowski said she felt she could serve Alaska well given the challenging circumstances facing the nation and deep partisan divisions.

Murkowski was running, she said, “in order for Alaska’s voice to be heard and heard clearly.”

In her remarks, Murkowski emphasized bipartisanship and working in the interest of all Alaskans, regardless of party affiliation.

Murkowski is facing a challenge from Kelley Tshibaka, former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration, who’s secured the support of former President Donald Trump and other national Republicans. Murkowski has faced significant pushback from her own party, in particular the Alaska Republican Party which voted in March to censure Murkowski for voting to impeach then-President Trump following the deadly Jan. 6, riot at the U.S. Capitol. In July, the state GOP endorsed Tshibaka.

Murkowski didn’t mention Tshibaka or Trump by name but repeatedly referred to outside groups seeking to influence Alaska’s elections.

“In this election, Lower 48 outsiders are going to try and grab Alaska’s Senate seat for their partisan agendas,” Murkowski said in the her announcement video, and Friday made similar statements.

“They don’t understand our state and frankly, they couldn’t care less about your future,” she said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, walks to the chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. Murkowski, who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial and has repeatedly bumped heads with the former president, announced Friday, Nov. 12, that she will run for reelection. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, walks to the chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. Murkowski, who voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial and has repeatedly bumped heads with the former president, announced Friday, Nov. 12, that she will run for reelection. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A race takes shape

According to the Alaska Division of Elections and filings with the Federal Elections Commission, Murkowski has several challengers for her Senate seat, but so far none of them are Democrats. FEC filings show Murkowski with a strong lead over her competitors in terms of cash on hand. The latest filings show Murkowski with $3.2 million on hand and the next closest candidate, Tshibaka, with almost $300,000. As an incumbent, Murkowski is allowed to use money collected during her previous campaign.

That lead was mentioned during Friday’s news conference, as was a recent court decision that brought an end to certain campaign contributions.

Murkowski said she couldn’t say how much she expected the campaign to cost but given the tension surrounding the race it would likely be a lot.

“If this were a campaign that were just left to Alaksans we could probably run a reasonable campaign,” Murkowski said, but politics in the campaign were being driven by “a feud by others from outside, and maybe a little bit of retribution. That may bring in dollars from the outside.”

Other challengers for the Senate seat include registered Republicans Samuel Little, Karl Speights and Paul Kendall; Libertarian Sean Thorne; registered Alaska Independence Party candidates Joe Stevens and Dustin Darden and nonpartisan candidates Sidney Hill and Dave Darden.

Murkowski officially filed with Alaska DOE Friday but Tshibaka still has not officially filed with the state, DOE spokesperson Tiffany Montemayor said in an email.

[Remembering the costs of war, veterans ring bell for peace]

This will be the first year Alaska will have both open primaries and and ranked choice voting system. The new laws were narrowly approved by voters during the last general election in 2020. In 2010, Murkowski became the first U.S. Senator in more than 50 years to win her seat through a write-in campaign after being defeated in the party primary.

Bipartisanship and blowback

At Friday’s news conference and in her campaign video, Murkowski emphasized her bipartisanship and effectiveness in the Senate. On Wednesday, the senator held a news conference to discuss how the recently-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill was going to impact Alaska. In that conference, Murkowski addressed the criticism she and other Republicans who voted for the bill received from their party members and said to put politics above the interests of the state was “petty.” Murkowski was one of a core group of negotiators who helped pass the infrastructure bill out of the Senate.

“What a shame on us that we’re not willing to put the priorities of the country before politics,” Murkowski said at Wednesday news conference. “Last I checked, when you get out on that road they don’t check to see if you’re a Republican or a Democrat. I think everyone of us wants and deserves save infrastructure.”

On social media Tshibaka has called Murkowski “Joe Biden’s Chief Enabling Officer Liberal Lisa,” and called the infrastructure bill “socialist.”

Murkowski noted both Wednesday and Friday the infrastructure bill she voted on was different from a reconciliation bill being championed by some Democrats, which the senator stressed she did not support.

Trump issued a statement on his personal website denigrating GOP senators who’d backed the bill for “thinking that helping the Democrats is such a wonderful thing to do.” Those Republicans “should be ashamed of themselves, in particular (Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky),” Trump wrote.

All three members of Alaska’s Congressional delegation voted for the infrastructure bill, despite all being Republicans.

In an interview with the Empire in February, shortly after the Jan. 6, riot, Murkowski said if Donald Trump was going to be at the head of the Republican Party, she didn’t know if she still belonged in that party.

“I did not switch my party,” Murkowski told the Empire at the time. “I’ve never left the party, but I think the party is going through a transition right now.”

Murkowski said Friday she had received support from Senate Republicans, including the Republican Senatorial Committee and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Despite opposition from her own party, Murkowski seemed confident at her campaign’s prospects.

“There are some on the outside who don’t support me and want me out of here,” Murkowski said. “They don’t have a vote here, last I checked.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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