If Sen. Lisa Murkowski is to retain her seat in the U.S. Senate she will have to do so without the support of the Alaska Republican Party. On March 13, three quarters of the Alaska Republican Party State Central Committee leadership voted to censure Murkowski for a litany of grievances that indicate she no longer supports the core mission and vision of the GOP.
Whether a break with the GOP will hinder Murkowski’s bid for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate remains to be seen. She is up for reelection in 2022, but this time around she can take advantage of the new ranked choice voting scheme that a narrow majority of Alaskans approved in the last general election.
Ranked-choice voting does away with all party primaries in favor of a nonpartisan primary in which the top four candidates go on to the general election. Many political observers see this as an advantage for Murkowski who is one of the most liberal Republicans in the U.S. Senate. By having a general, nonpartisan primary, candidates can hide their political affiliations and thereby conceal their true political philosophy from voters in the primary.
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By avoiding a primary challenge against a strong conservative candidate, Murkowski will instead be able to draw upon Democratic, Independent and Undeclared voters in order to advance to the general election as one of the top four vote getters. This will be key for her chances in November 2022.
Once the top four candidates make it out of the primary, voters will then vote on their first, second, third and fourth place choices in the general election. If one candidate wins a majority of first place votes, they are the automatic winner. If, however, no candidate wins a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest first place votes is eliminated and all their second-place votes are doled out to the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate wins a majority of votes.
In such a scenario, Murkowski could draw a considerable number of second choice votes from Democrats and other liberal leaning voters to cobble together a majority. To date, Murkowski has won three terms as a U.S. senator without ever winning a majority of the vote. She took 48.6% of the vote in 2004, 39.5% in 2010, and 44.4% in 2016.
In the last November general election, ranked choice voting passed as a ballot initiative by a narrow 50.5% to 49.5% margin. The Alaska Independence Party has launched a legal challenge to the new law, claiming it is unconstitutional.