Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) Is Trump's #1 Target In The Senate. Can He Defeat Her?

Trump has a candidate against Murkowski

Yesterday, Alaska reported 88 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the state's total to 57,304-- 78,333 cases per Alaskan and 411 deaths per million residents. Only 12 states have fewer cases per million and only two states-- Hawaii and Vermont-- have a lower death rate. But you know what number is really high in Alaska? The number of tests per million residents. Only Rhode Island and Massachusetts have administered more tests per million residents. On average, every Alaskan has been tested nearly 2.4 times. And yesterday, Alaska became the first state to offer the vaccine to any person 16 or older. About 16% of Alaskans are already fulled inoculated-- the best rate in the country.

Alaska is an anomaly for a state that voted for Trump and that has Republicans running the state government. Almost all the states in the worst COVID-hell are Trump states. The Dakotas-- both Trumpist bastions with anti-mask governments-- are the 2 most dangerous places on the planet for people who want to avoid infection. North Dakota has 131,897 cases per million residents and South Dakota has 128,584. The two states symbolize the Trumpist response to the pandemic. That's where America needs a wall. Of the 14 states with over 100,000 cases per million residents, 13 voted for overwhelmingly enough for Trump to make anyone conclude that the majority of residents were eating lead-based paint when they were growing up.

Alaska also went for Trump-- but not so overwhelmingly as, say the Dakotas. North Dakota gave Trump a thumping 65.11% of it's vote and South Dakota was onboard the Trump train with 61.77%. Alaska-- just 52.83%. Biden won Anchorage, the state's only large city and of Alaska's 40 House districts, Trump won 21 and Biden won 19.

Now Trump has unambiguously declared war on Alaska's senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, one of the 7 Republicans who voted to convict him on the latest impeachment charge. Señor Trumpanzee last weekend: "I will not be endorsing, under any circumstances, the failed candidate from the great State of Alaska, Lisa Murkowski. She represents her state badly and her country even worse. I do not know where other people will be next year, but I know where I will be-- in Alaska campaigning against a disloyal and very bad Senator." Boilerplate Trump bluster... but what does it mean for Murkowski's reelection prospects? Stuart Rothenberg took a look for Roll Call this morning.

"Alaska," he wrote, "is famous for its political quirkiness. The state has elected a mixture of Republicans, Democrats, and independents as governor and to the Senate since it was admitted to the union in 1959. The most recent Democratic senator was Mark Begich, who was elected in 2008 and lost his bid for reelection by only two points in 2014, during Barack Obama’s second midterm election... 'Alaska has remained a state intertwined with government, an independent society dependent on federal spending, subsidies and special treatment, and at the same time, resentful of what it considers Washington’s meddling and intervention.' In other words, Alaska certainly favors Republicans, but it is not the knee-jerk GOP bastion that many states in the South (e.g., Alabama), Midwest (e.g., the Dakotas) or Mountain West (e.g., Idaho and Wyoming) are."

OK, but Murkowski is arguably more of a Republican than Trump is. Depends how you define "Republican" these days. If you define it as a Trumpist-- as many do-- that could spell trouble. Rothenberg reminded his readers that "When Murkowski lost the GOP nomination to tea party conservative Joe Miller in 2010, she came back to win in the fall as a write-in candidate with just under 40 percent of the vote in a three-way contest. It is difficult to imagine that happening in another state, with the possible exception of another quirky one, Maine. Murkowski knows her state well. She consistently approaches policy matters by asking how they will impact Alaskans, and she comes across as thoughtful and serious-- qualities never associated with Trump. Murkowski also benefits from the passage of Ballot Measure 2, which Alaska voters very narrowly approved last November. The measure minimizes the threat of a successful primary challenge to Murkowski by eliminating purely partisan primaries (the type she faced in 2010)... [and] establishes ranked-choice voting for general elections."

In some ways, Trump seems like the least likely person to rally Alaska voters against Murkowski. He is a New Yorker-turned-Floridian, a real estate mogul and a narcissist, which limits his appeal in a state where many regard themselves as straight shooters.
Trump may well campaign against Murkowski-- indeed, by threatening to do so publicly, he has virtually given himself no alternative. Backing away from his promise to campaign against the “very bad senator” would make the former president look toothless and foolish.
But if Murkowski runs for another term, she will start out with a clear advantage, even with Trump campaigning against her.

The special election in Maine yesterday for a swing state senate district that Trump won in 2016 and lost, by one point, last year, may give some clues to Alaska. Two former state legislators faced off-- Democrat Craig Hickman and Republican William Guerrette. Hickman didn't just win this district filled with the same kind of independent voters that Alaska has, but won it in a landslide-- 62.59% to 37.41%. Dislike for how Trump has handled himself since his November defeat was just one factor, but it was a factor and is likely to be even more so in Alaska where over half the voters (56.61%) are registered as neither Republicans (24.76%) nor Democrats (13.56%).