What $5M? Murkowski’s GOP rivals disregard long odds

Downtown Cleveland was the site of the GOP convention. Photo: Lawrence Ostrovsky.
File photo: Lawrence Ostrovsky

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has raised more than $5 million for her re-election effort. She’s got big signs and TV ads across the state. But have you met the three men running against her in next week’s Republican Primary? We tried. We found two undaunted optimists running shoestring campaigns, and a third candidate who rebuffed our interview request on the grounds that he had too much to say.

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Thomas Lamb of Anchorage looks whiskery and gruff but he has a gentle manner. He first came to Alaska as an Air Force weather forecaster. Now he works for a company that supplies the wood moldings sold in hardware stores.

Maybe you’ve heard his unconventional ads on commercial radio, like his “General Stenko” series.

Thomas Lamb is running against Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican Primary.
Thomas Lamb is running against Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican Primary. Photos: Liz Ruskin/APRN

“Thomas Lamb wants to build submarine base in Alaska,” he says in one, putting on a thick Russian accicent. “Don’t vote for Thomas Lamb. This is like ‘Hunt for Red October stuff.’ Vote for Lisa Murkowski. She wants icebreaker in Alaska …”

Yep: That’s an ad Lamb paid for, and produced himself. It refers to one of his big ideas for Alaska’s resources: “Submarine tankers. LNG tankers.”

You know that expensive gas pipeline Alaska wants to build? Lamb says it’s unrealistic, at least with today’s market conditions. He wants to send Cook Inlet gas to Europe, and he says it only makes sense to go under the Arctic ice.

If you Google “LNG submarine tankers” you’ll see it’s an idea General Dynamics considered in the 1980s. Lamb says the Russians are beating us to it.

Lamb also aired an ad complaining about the ubiquity of Sen. Murkowski’s campaign signs along Alaska roads, but he worried it inspired some ugly behavior.

“I ran it one time and when I saw some graffiti show up on her signs, I pulled it,” he said. “That’s something I don’t want to get involved in.”

Lamb believes in the power of being right. He’s run for office before, and says things he

Bob Lochner, of Wasilla, is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.
Bob Lochner, of Wasilla, is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

predicted years ago – for instance, that Russia would invade Ukraine – proved to be accurate. He thinks this gives him a shot with the voters.

“It’s nice to be on the right side of the issues. You don’t want to be wrong. Like Trump. I’ve never seen –  that’s so …,” he covers his face and laughs, the vicarious embarrassment nearly unbearable. “And even Hillary Clinton. I mean they’re both – I don’t agree with neither one.”

Another Republican in the race is Bob Lochner, from Wasilla. He believes in the power of being conservative. He’s a silver-haired clean-cut young grandfather, a veteran who works as an employee trainer on the North Slope. Lochner has the endorsement of Alaska Right to Life and supports Donald Trump.

“I don’t see a very bright future for our children and grandchildren in the direction we’re going, with a 20 trillion-dollar debt,” he said. “Our economy is so fragile. We need a lot of shoring up to do. We need a lot of strength.”

Lochner’s top issues are border security, the economy and taking care of veterans. He says he’s not accepting Outside money, to preserve his independence.

“I don’t care how much money somebody wants to send me, if it’s from Outside, or if it’s from a special interest or lobby group, I’ll send it back,” he vows.

So far, that hasn’t been a problem. Nobody is sending him money he has to refuse. Lochner, like Lamb, has raised less than $5,000 total, so he hasn’t had to file campaign finance reports. But he is campaigning. He’s traveling the road system, handing out pocket-sized U.S. Constitutions as a business card.

Lochner ran for state House in the 1990s, when he lived in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage. Back then, Lochner was a mechanic and single dad who acknowledged he relied on public assistance for a few years. He said it made him better able to represent the poor people of the district.

Political analysts might look at Murkowski’s $5 million war chest and predict victory for the incumbent. Lochner doesn’t see it that way.

“I don’t want to sound too over-confident, but – and it’s hard to tell – but I think the numbers are with me,” he said.

Murkowski has a third Republican challenger: Paul D. Kendall of Anchorage. Kendall is a frequent caller to talk radio shows. He declined to sit for a recorded interview, saying he would need three hours on live radio to discuss his views.

Whichever Republican wins the Primary, she – or he – will be on the November ballot with Independent Margaret Stock (assuming her signature drive is successful) and Libertarian Cean Stevens. Also vying for a spot on that ballot are two Democratic candidates, Edgar Blatchford and Ray Metcalfe, who are running their own shoestring campaigns.


Coming soon: Meet the candidates vying to be Murkowski’s Democratic challenger.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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