Alaska Senate: A Re-Emergence

By Jim Ellis

Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate

Aug. 4, 2021 — The Alaska Survey Research firm released a new Alaska Senate poll finding Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) improving her standing, but an even more drastic potential development has surfaced.

The poll (July 11-21; 947 registered Alaska voters, online) shows Sen. Murkowski posting her best numbers of the year, leading former State Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka (R), 36-27 percent. Tshibaka, already the candidate who the Alaska Republican Party and former President Donald Trump have officially endorsed, was leading the senator in earlier published surveys (Change Research: May 22-25; 1,023 likely Alaska voters, Tshibaka 39-19 percent. Cygnal: released March 29; 500 registered Alaska voters, Tshibaka 34-19 percent).

In the July ASR poll, state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage) and former Senate nominee Joe Miller (R/Libertarian) trailed the two leaders with 19 and 18 percent, respectively. Under Alaska’s new top-four primary system, all four of these candidates, however, would advance into the general election.

In even better news for Sen. Murkowski, the ASR poll tested her against Tshibaka in a head-to-head match-up and the incumbent would defeat the challenger, 55-45 percent. The bad news for Murkowski is the new Alaska voting system will not allow for such a pairing. Beginning with the 2022 election, all candidates run on a jungle primary ballot in the Aug. 16, 2022, nomination contest and the top four contenders, regardless of percentage attained will advance into the general election. Therefore, testing for a one-on-one ballot test should no longer be applicable in analyzing the Alaska electoral system.

Beyond the poll, a new development could be on the Alaska political horizon. Over the weekend, former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, addressed a group of evangelical Christian leaders. Asked if she would run for the Senate, Palin retorted, “if God wants me to run for the US Senate next year, I will.” She then, however, scolded the leaders saying, “I would say you guys better be there for me this time, because a lot of people were not there for me last time.”

Under the new qualifying system, it’s conceivable that Murkowski, Palin and Tshibaka could all advance into the general election with one slot assuredly going to the strongest Democrat. State Sen. Gray-Jackson was included on the Alaska Survey Research ballot test and has expressed interest in running. Dr. Al Gross, who challenged Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) in 2020 and lost 54-41 percent but raised almost $20 million for his campaign, has not closed the door on entering the race but has shown little initiative toward doing so.

The addition of Palin to the 2022 Senate field, if she indeed does run, would drastically change the political picture. Very quickly a Democratic candidate advancing into the general election could find him or herself in a prime position because a victory could be possible with only a small vote plurality. Therefore, should Palin enter, expect further political maneuverings on the Democratic side both in Alaska and nationally as this race would quickly ascend the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s (DSCC) target list.

Now, with Palin making a comment that she could be interested in a Senate run, watch for more polling firms to begin conducting surveys of what could become a very interesting campaign. A Murkowski-Palin-Tshibaka-Democrat four-way split in the November 2022 election would certainly change the election focus, in addition to creating legitimate scenarios and victory paths for each of the four to achieve success.

Once more, Alaska politics is drawing national attention, and with Sarah Palin’s potential re-emergence in the campaign arena, we can expect to be seeing a great deal more coverage of this contest in the coming weeks and months.

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