Alaska Senate race has implications for moderate makeup on Capitol Hill

Published: Aug. 14, 2022 at 12:44 PM EDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Gray DC) - As Alaskans prepare to vote for U.S. Senate candidates, the balance of power in Washington is in focus. The party split in the Senate after this year’s midterm elections will make it clear who has the legislative upper hand, and which Senators will have crucial votes.

With such tight margins in Washington, lawmakers are closely watching colleagues known for working across the aisle. One of those moderates is Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) who is seeking reelection this year.

“Working across the lines does not mean that you are not getting work done for the people that you are serving,” said Murkowski.

Which way Murkowski will vote on legislation is often shrouded in mystery. She was one of a few Republicans to vote for a gun safety bill. She has supported President Biden’s cabinet nominees. She’s a pro-choice Republican who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump. In an increasingly polarized and predictable Washington, Murkowski is an outlier.

Her message to conservative Alaskans who fear she does not vote their interests?

“My message is - do you care about the state of Alaska?”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Va.) play outsized roles in the current 50-50 Senate. They are often involved in legislative negotiations in which both parties hoping to earn their support.

If Republicans win the Senate this November, and Murkowski a new term, does she see herself in their position?

“I’m already making that difference,” said Murkowski.

Dr. Stephen Haycox is a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He says moderates like Murkowski are fading as political extremes continue to rise. Haycox believes if Trump loyalist Kelly Tshibaka unseats Murkowski, there will be no mystery in how she votes.

“She will be a loyal Republican soldier if she is elected,” said Haycox.

Tshibaka rejects the idea she will be a rubber stamp Republican. She says her years working in government show she works with whoever helps her deliver for her state.

“I think we need somebody who votes for Alaska and what’s in Alaska’s best interest,” said Tshibaka.

Tuesday’s Senate primary will send the top four vote getters to the November midterm elections. That is when Alaskans find out who leads the state into a new Senate era.

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