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EXCLUSIVE: Republican Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka says she was well prepared for Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska’s reelection announcement last week.
Tshibaka, who enjoys the backing and support of former President Trump as she challenges Murkowski, told Fox News in an exclusive interview that the longtime senator’s “been campaigning for months. She just hasn’t been honest about it. It’s nice that she’s finally calling it what it is and she’s come clean in saying she’s actually running for the Senate.”
The former Alaska commissioner of administration emphasized that “we’ve anticipated that Murkowski was going to run because she’s absolutely committed to maintaining the Murkowski political dynasty. I don’t think it changes anything for our race or how Alaskans feel.”
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That dynasty that Tshibaka spotlighted started with longtime Sen. Frank Murkowski, who after two decades in the Senate, won election in 2002 as Alaska governor. The elder Murkowski – in a controversial move at the time – appointed his daughter Lisa, who was serving as the Alaska House of Representatives majority leader, to fill the final two years of his Senate term.
Tshibaka emphasized that “Alaskans are ready for a change.”
Murkowski, a moderate Republican with a history of working across the aisle to achieve bipartisan agreements, was one of seven GOP lawmakers in the Senate to vote to convict the former president in his February impeachment trial on charges of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And she’s the only one of those seven running for reelection in next year’s midterms.
Trump’s vowed to come to Alaska to campaign against the senator. Earlier this year he endorsed Tshibaka, and a couple of leading members of Trump’s 2020 presidential reelection inner circle are working as senior advisers on Tshibaka’s team.
Tshibaka’s headed to the former president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, in February, where Trump’s scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for her campaign.
Murkowski’s call for Trump to resign following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and her vote to convict Trump on charges he incited the attack weren’t the first times she’s raised his ire. The senator voted against a Republican-backed plan in 2017 to repeal the national health care law known as Obamacare, and a year later she opposed confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated by Trump.
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Tshibaka told Fox News that Trump has “said that he’s absolutely committed to helping out with coming to Alaska next year and doing a campaign rally for us.”
The candidate likes to refer to Murkowski as President Biden’s “Chief Enabling Officer.” Tshibaka charges the senator “continues to align herself with and enable and support the radical Biden administration.”
Her campaign points to Murkowski’s crucial Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee vote earlier this year to confirm Biden’s nominee for Interior secretary, then-Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico. Murkowski’s support helped Haaland make history as the first Native American to serve as Interior secretary, but the nominee’s past opposition to new leases for drilling oil and gas on federal lands were very troubling in a carbon-rich state like Alaska.
Tshibaka’s campaign says that “Haaland is leading the charge on the anti-Alaska environmental agenda.”
The candidate also took aim at the wide-ranging $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that the president signed into law on Monday. The measure – the largest investment in infrastructure in America in decades – garnered bipartisan support in passing the Senate in August and the House earlier this month. Murkowski and the two other members of Alaska’s all-GOP congressional delegation voted in favor of the bill.
Tshibaka has made it clear she wouldn’t have voted for the measure if she was in Congress.
“I didn’t see any infrastructure bill. I saw the Green New Deal,” she said. “A fraction of this bill goes to towards anything called infrastructure. In Alaska, we desperately need infrastructure. This is the Green New Deal. It punishes anything having to do with carbon. Carbon is synonymous with Alaska – oil, gas, coal. And when we’re punishing carbon, this is the anti-Alaska bill. We don’t want to be supporting bills that punish our workers, that punish our businesses, that punish our families, that punish our residents.”
And Tshibaka emphasized, “I’ve talked to many businesses up here that anticipate because of this bill they will be shut down by the middle of this decade and they will have to move out of Alaska.”
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Murkowski, a lead author and negotiator of the bill, attended Monday’s signing ceremony at the White House. Her Senate office spotlighted that the measure “will provide roughly $3.5 billion in highway funding for Alaska over five years, to construct, rebuild and maintain its roads and highways” as well as provide “$40 billion in funding for bridge construction, maintenance, and repair.” The senator’s office also pointed to funding in the measure for Alaska’s airports, busses and ferries, ports, railroads, water and wastewater projects, and broadband.
Murkowski’s called the package an “historic infrastructure bill that will deliver massive benefits to our state.”
While targeted by Trump, Murkowski has the support of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the reelection arm of the Senate GOP, which has long backed Republican incumbents running for reelection. And longtime Senate GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and his political team have pledged to support Murkowski as she runs for reelection. The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund, the top outside super PAC backing Senate Republicans, endorsed Murkowski earlier this year.
Ten months removed from the White House, Trump remains very popular and influential with Republican voters and politicians as he continues to play a kingmaker’s role in GOP primaries and repeatedly flirts with another White House run in 2024. And his targeting of Murkowski and support for Tshibaka makes the senator’s reelection challenging.
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But this isn’t the first time Murkowski’s faced a challenging reelection.
The senator lost the GOP primary in 2010 reelection to Tea Party-supported challenger Joe Miller. Murkowski then launched a write-in campaign and successfully won the general election. She topped Miller again in 2016 in a three-way contest. But in all three of her successful Senate elections and reelections (2004, 2010 and 2016) she’s never captured a majority of vote.
Even though she didn’t announce for reelection until last week, Murkowski’s been fundraising all year. She hauled in nearly $1.1 million during the July-September third quarter of fundraising, with roughly $3.2 million cash on hand. Tshibaka brought in $465,000 during the third quarter, with nearly $300,000 in her campaign coffers.
But Tshibaka argued that “I am raising four to five times as much money as Lisa Murkowski in the state of Alaska” and pledged that “we’re going to have enough money to beat Lisa Murkowski.”
She noted that “so many Alaskans are financing and supporting my campaign” and showcased that “at the event that we’re having at Mar-a-Lago, right now almost all those tickets have been sold to Alaskans. I am really proud of that.”
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The 2022 Senate showdown in Alaska will have some new rules. Alaskans, in a ballot measure last year, changed how they run their elections. The scrapped party primaries, and going forward the top four voter getters in a nonpartisan primary will advance to the general election, where ranked-choice voting will be used to determine the winner.
While pundits speculate that could help Murkowski, who enjoys strong name recognition, Tshibaka’s campaign theorizes that Murkowski will come in third next November in the ranked-choice general election, behind Tshibaka and the eventual Democratic nominee. That would eliminate Murkowski in the ranked-choice tabulation, with Tshibaka’s campaign predicting that its candidate would top the Democrat in the final tally.