Murkowski gains immunity from Trump revenge with Alaska’s new voting system

Sen. Murkowski talks to reporters in 2020. (Jeff Malet/

Former President Donald Trump has told aides to work on ousting Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other Republicans who crossed him, The Washington Post reports, but one strategy aides are said to be planning won’t work on her: When Alaskans passed Ballot Measure 2 last year, they immunized Murkowski from a primary threat.

It’s easy to imagine Murkowski would lose to a Trump-endorsed candidate in a closed Republican primary. She already lost a primary election in 2010, before she angered tons of Trump supporters with her inconsistent loyalty to him. 

But in August 2022, it won’t be just Republican voters who decide whether Murkowski should advance to the November ballot. She and whoever else wants the seat, of any party, will be on the same ballot for all primary voters. The top four will advance to the general election, and voters will rank them on the November ballot.

Murkowski said the new open primary and ranked-choice voting puts her in a better position.

“I think so,” she said. “I actually, after giving it a fair amount of study, I like that this will put forward, hopefully, a process that is less rancorous.”

RELATED: Alaska will have a new election system: Voters pass Ballot Measure 2

Scott Kendall, the father of Ballot Measure 2, worked on Murkowski’s past campaigns. He said he didn’t design the new system to benefit her. The impetus came when he was chief of staff to independent Gov. Bill Walker. Kendall said he saw how reluctant state legislators were to forge a compromise on a big bill, even when they thought it made good sense. They’d tell him they’d lose their seat in a primary.

“Whenever a public official acted in the public good, and probably acted in a way their constituents wanted, kind of their leadership moments,” Kendall said. “In the old system, their leadership moments would be their biggest liabilities.”

The open primary rewards moderation, Kendall said, because candidates can make their case to the entire constituency, rather than only the party faithful.

Murkowski has repeatedly defied her party with votes favoring abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act. She’s ticked off Trump supporters by sometimes criticizing him. Kendall said the new system won’t necessarily encourage her to do more of that. He said the consequences are more muted.

RELATED: Murkowski’s Trump ‘struggle’: Her goals for Alaska vs. her values

“Now these moments where she chooses to lead, and she chooses to lean into the headwinds, now they’re not liabilities anymore,” he said. “We don’t have to say, ‘Now 5% of her constituents might decide to take her out.’ What we can look at is, ‘How do all Alaskans feel about this?'”

Of course, if you want a conservative Republican to beat Murkowski, the open primary isn’t great. 

Alaska Republican Party Chair Glenn Clary didn’t respond to an interview request, but did call in to right-wing talk radio host Dan Fagan’s show on Tuesday. It got heated. Fagan demanded to know what the party was going to do about Murkowski. Clary cautioned Fagan against splintering conservatives.

“If we don’t come together, then Lisa will never be replaced,” Clary said. “And with Ballot Measure 2, that we have to work with, it’s going to be very hard for the Republicans to win races in the future.”

“So you’re saying you think Lisa should be replaced?” Fagan asked.

No, Clary said. Although he opposes abortion rights, he said the party should be big enough to include opposing views on that and other matters.

“I have people calling me every day and texting me, ‘What are you going to do about Lisa Murkowski?'” Clary said. “And not a one of them has had backbone or money to stand up and say, ‘Listen, I’m going to run.'”

Even with the new selection system, Murkowski could have a hard time winning, according to Alaska pollster Ivan Moore. He said her favorability ratings have plunged among Alaskans, on the right and left, and Moore thinks the moderate base she used to rely on isn’t there for her.

“It’s got to the point where her flip-flopping backwards and forwards doesn’t just serve to enrage people,” Moore, owner of Alaska Survey Research, said. “It also makes them not trust her.”

Few other polls are publicly available, but one conducted last summer also found a minority of Alaskans had positive views of Murkowski.

Still, the election is a long way off and unknowns abound. The Washington Post reports Trump is considering forming his own party. Whether he finds a viable candidate to run against Murkowski remains to be seen.

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

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