Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Murkowski, Who Voted Against Trump, Is Likely Helped By Alaska's New Primary System


Seven Republican senators voted to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial. Only Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska faces an election next year. Republicans in her state have already started to censure her. But Alaska also has a new election system, one that was adopted by voters, which means the Republican Party may not have the power to take Murkowski out in a primary. Here's Liz Ruskin from Alaska Public Media.

LIZ RUSKIN, BYLINE: Senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters in Juneau Tuesday that she voted against Trump to uphold American principles, regardless of what it means for her career.


LISA MURKOWSKI: I know that my actions, my vote may have political consequences. And I understand that. I absolutely understand that. But I can't be afraid of that.

RUSKIN: Murkowski already lost one Republican primary. In 2010, she only kept her seat by running a write-in campaign in the general. And that was before she angered legions of Republicans with high-profile votes defying Trump.

Pollster Ivan Moore of Alaska Survey Research has been tracking opinion of Murkowski for two decades. If she had to face another closed Republican primary, Moore says Murkowski would almost certainly lose.

IVAN MOORE: On the conservative side, she's now a pariah totally on the right and will be. It's irreversible.

RUSKIN: But that might not matter. Alaskans passed Ballot Measure 2 last year, creating an open primary. In 2022, instead of running against other Republicans, Murkowski will run against candidates of all parties. All voters will receive the same ballot, and the top four finishers will advance to the November election. Murkowski has acknowledged the new system helps her, and Moore says it's almost impossible for her to lose this kind of primary.

MOORE: Just on name ID alone, she's bound to come in in the top four, just absolutely no doubt about it.

RUSKIN: Ballot Measure 2 also dramatically changes the general election with ranked-choice voting. Starting next year, Alaska voters will select their favorite and also their No. 2, 3 and 4. If no candidate gets more than 50%, the votes for the fourth-place finisher will be reassigned to the voter's second favorite. The reassignment continues until someone wins a majority.

Moore says Murkowski's vote to convict Trump greatly increases the odds that Democrats are going to select her as their No. 1 or 2, so he says it may actually help her politically.

MOORE: You never can quite tell with Lisa whether a vote is strategic or not.

RUSKIN: Alaska's Republican Party isn't happy with the new system. State GOP Chair Glenn Clary said recently that Ballot Measure 2 makes it hard for Republicans to win races and that conservatives contact him every day demanding to know what he's doing to get Murkowski out.

Speculation is rampant in Alaska that the new system was designed specifically to benefit Murkowski. Anchorage attorney Scott Kendall is the father of Ballot Measure 2. He worked on Murkowski's campaigns but says his motivation came from watching state legislators. They'd tell Kendall, if they crossed the aisle to compromise, they'd lose their primary.

SCOTT KENDALL: Whenever a public official acted in the public good and probably acted in a way that a vast majority of their constituents wanted to, kind of their leadership moments, in the old system, their leadership moments would be their biggest liabilities.

RUSKIN: Kendall says he's glad Alaska has a new kind of primary that won't punish Murkowski for putting principle over party.

For NPR News, I'm Liz Ruskin in Anchorage.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "TO THE NTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Liz Ruskin