Lisa Murkowski may not be a household name outside of her home state of Alaska, but she is known within the halls of the Senate for being among the most liberal lawmakers with an “R” by her name.
In 2010, she barely won re-election, taking a plurality of the votes in a three-way race, but Alaskan Republicans are watching with increasing angst, though some have given into resignation, as no viable conservative candidate has stepped forward to challenge her.
Roll Call reported that Murkowski in the last session of Congress was second only to Sen. Susan Collins of Maine among Republicans most likely to vote with President Obama, doing so 72 percent of the time.
Alaska’s senior senator scored below nearly all her Republican colleagues in the Heritage Action Scorecard of votes with 33 percent. The average for GOP senators was 59 percent, with Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio coming in at 100 and 90 percent, respectively. Murkowski also falls near the bottom of the American Conservative Union (the sponsor of CPAC) rating for all GOP senators (slightly above Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk), and was given an “F” grade by Conservative Review.
Yet Murkowski knows conservatism is still important to a significant percentage of the state’s Republican Party, so as in 2010, she is billing herself, incredulously, as “The Conservative Voice For Alaska.”
Make no mistake, there is a strong conservative base within the Last Frontier’s GOP, as evidenced in the presidential primary results earlier this spring. Cruz won the state in a upset, taking 36 percent of the vote, followed by Donald Trump with 33.5 percent, Rubio with 15 percent and Dr. Ben Carson with 11 percent. In other words, non-establishment Republicans accounted for at least 80 percent of the primary vote total in the state.
“People have been really grumbling about Murkowski,” since the 2010 race, said Bill Keller, who was the co-chairman of Cruz’s campaign in Alaska.
The Kenai Peninsula resident said the main thing that the senator has going for her, in the eyes of some Republican Party leaders in the state, is that she is the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; however, that carries little weight with Keller.
Keller finds it unacceptable the manner in which she flouts the state party platform, which is pro-life, pro-family and anti-big government.
Among the votes she has taken that anger pro-life Alaskans are to fund Planned Parenthood, to affirm Roe v. Wade as the “law of the land” (in a sense of the Senate resolution), and to strike down the Mexico City policy (first instituted under Ronald Reagan), which barred federal dollars from being used to fund abortions overseas.
For Dave Bronson, who serves on the board of the Alaska Family Council, it is not just Murkowski’s liberal votes on social issues that upset him, it his her support of “fixing Obamacare.” He pointed to a recent op-ed penned by the senator for the Alaska Dispatch, in which she wrote, “I will not ease up on my efforts to fix this unworkable law.”
“’We need to repair this thing and make it workable for Alaska.’ That’s a real insight into her thinking,” Bronson said. “She thinks Obamacare is workable and fixable. To a social conservative, libertarian like me, the whole notion of it is repugnant … because it compels people to do certain things. She thinks, tinker on the edges and all of the sudden magically Obamacare will work.”
Her 2010 Republican challenger, Joe Miller, hit Murkowski on this very issue, charging that the senator’s mindset was entirely in the wrong place regarding Obamacare. He pointed to a statement she made to a local news outlet that year shortly after the controversial law’s passage, indicating it was a work in progress. “Repealing this is not the answer, in my opinion,” she said.
In a 2009 town hall in the public debate leading up to the law’s passage, the senator also tipped her hand, when she told the audience she would not rule government run healthcare. “We have government-run healthcare now,” adding, “What we have to have is a government-run plan that actually works.”
Bronson said that Obamacare is in fact failing Alaskans. Like residents in many other states, the exchange offers residents few choices, and the costs keep going up. UnitedHealth Group announced it was leaving the market. Humana recently announced plans to pull out too.
Bronson stated that he would like Miller to challenge Murkowski again, seeing him as one of the few with the statewide name recognition and the moxie to do it.
After defeating the incumbent Murkowski in the GOP primary in perhaps the greatest upset in the 2010 election cycle, the newcomer candidate faltered in the general election, losing narrowly as the senator waged a write-in effort (as an independent) to hold on to the seat held by her family since the early 1980s.
Miller decided to give it another try in 2014, running for the senate seat occupied by Democrat Mark Begich. Miller beat expectations in the primary, finishing ahead of then-Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, but losing to former Attorney General Dan Sullivan. The results were Sullivan 40 percent, Miller 32 percent and Treadwell 25 percent. Sullivan went on to topple Begich in the general election.
“In ’14, [Miller] ran an absolutely excellent campaign. As far as I can tell, not one misstep,” said Bronson.
Keller would also like to see Miller run, saying but for Treadwell being in the race playing the spoiler, he believes the decorated combat veteran would have won, despite being outspent over 10-to-1.
Judy Eledge, who serves on the board of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club and is a delegate to the national convention, thinks Miller could beat Murkowski again in a primary, and the senator knows it.
She said in some ways it is the “rematch that people have been waiting six years for.” Her only question is whether Miller could win in the general election. There, she is less sanguine, sensing Alaska is drifting left of center politically, based on recent state and local election results.
So far, the Democrats have not named a challenger to take on Murkowski. In Bronson’s estimation, they do not feel the need to, given the senator’s liberal voting record. Her 2010 plurality victory was fueled in fact by Democrat voters, who knew their candidate was not viable.
What does Miller himself himself think of taking on his old nemesis again? So far he has not ruled out the possibility. The filing deadline of June 1 is quickly approaching, with the election slated for Aug. 16. The West Point graduate defeated Murkowski the first time, announcing just four months from Election Day and starting with zero statewide name recognition. It is conceivable he could do it again with just short of three months, and an army of volunteers likely ready to stand up statewide.
Fairbanks Assemblyman Lance Roberts looks back at what Miller was able to accomplish in 2010 with a sense of wonder. “It is amazing to me that he did it in a short time, and he had not had a political office before,” he said. “He did a yeoman’s job.” However, Roberts also warned that this time around, Murkowski is doing everything she can to avoid a repeat of 2010.
If Miller decides to enter the race, it will be based on the principled belief that propelled him into the race in 2010: Politicians, regardless of family name or longstanding position, should not get a pass from answering to the voters for their record. And if anything in the case of Lisa Murkowski, that record in the ensuing six years has only become more liberal.
(For more from the author of “This Liberal GOP Senator Votes With Obama More Than Any Other up for Re-Election” please click HERE)