The Alaska Republican Party voted Monday to censure Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a gesture with no practical consequence but one that is intended to send a strong signal to conservative voters in the state to vote for Donald Trump-backed candidate Kelly Tshibaka over Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
The McConnell-aligned super PAC Senate Leadership Fund has spent more than $5 million in ads attacking Tshibaka in a bid to help Murkowski win reelection.
Elected in 2002, Murkowski is one of the more moderate Republican senators and a frequent target of Trump for her votes to preserve the Affordable Care Act, against Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and to convict the former president for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Tshibaka, who has also been backed by the Alaska GOP, accused McConnell of lying about her to get more Republicans to vote for Murkowski.
“The millions of dollars Mitch McConnell is spending on lies about me could be put to better use in other states where a Republican has a chance to beat a Democrat,” she said Monday. “And the Alaska Republican Party has just told him to butt out of our state.”
Tshibaka said Murkowski would be a “key ally” for President Biden, something Tshibaka argued would make her unfit to serve the Last Frontier’s more than 736,000 residents.
“Lisa Murkowski cares more about her standing in D.C. social circles than she does about the people in Alaska she’s supposed to represent,” the former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner said. “It’s why she has enabled Biden’s energy-annihilating agenda that is crushing Alaska workers and families, and it’s why Murkowski is pulling for Pelosi by sending her another foot soldier while every other Republican is trying to stop Pelosi’s radical, leftist agenda.”
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McConnell’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Murkowski crossed party lines over the weekend and came out in support of Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, who’s running for reelection against two Republicans, former governor Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, a member of a prominent political family in the state. The senator said she was marking Peltola first on her ballot in Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system.
“Mary is a woman whose heart is as grounded in Alaska as anybody you’re going to find,” Murkowski told reporters Friday after attending an event in a large conference full of Alaska Natives.
“I’m going to get in so much trouble,” Murkowski mumbled after reflecting on her decision to back a member of the opposing party.
Despite being from different parties, Murkowski and Peltola, the first Alaska Native elected to Congress, are finding more things draw them together than drive them apart. They are running as abortion rights moderates who are independent-minded consensus-builders focused on Alaska’s needs, including juggling the impact of climate change and the state’s economic reliance on oil, not the partisan and culture wars playing out in the Lower 48.
They also share an intense focus on the Alaska Native population and a belief that those voters will be key to determining whether they return to Washington next year.
John Wagner contributed to this report.