Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski has taken the lead over Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka in the ranked-choice Senate contest that won’t be resolved until at least next week.
As of Saturday morning, Murkowski leads Tshibaka by fewer than 2,000 first-choice votes, with no candidate in the race claiming an outright majority that would end the election. Murkowski has 112,519 votes, 43.3% of the total vote share, and Tshibaka has 110,861 votes, 42.7%.
The deadline to receive absentee ballots was Friday, Nov. 18, and the tabulation of second-choice votes is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Under Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system, voters must list the four candidates who advanced from a jungle primary in order of who they prefer to win. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes on Election Day, the counting proceeds to a second round where the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. People who voted for that candidate have their votes redistributed to their second-choice. The counting continues until there are two candidates remaining and whoever has the greatest number of votes wins.
Based on the known results, Republican Buzz Kelley will be eliminated in the first round, holding less than 3% of the total vote. The Democratic candidate, Patricia Chesbro, currently has just 10.4% of the vote and will be the next to be eliminated. There are 34,358 votes between these candidates that will be redistributed to voters’ second-choice candidates.
Given that Murkowski is a centrist Republican, she would appear to be more likely to benefit from the 26,974 votes Chesbro received than Tshibaka, who was endorsed by former President Trump.
On the news that she overtook Tshibaka’s first-choice vote lead on Friday, Murkowski’s campaign tweeted a GIF from the movie “The Usual Suspects,” mocking her Republican challenger.
“And just like that … Kelly’s claim that she only lost because of Ranked Choice was gone,” text overlaying the GIF states.
Murkowski, an incumbent, has served in the Senate for 20 years, preceded by her father, Frank Murkowski, who was a senator from 1981 to 2002, when he resigned to become governor of Alaska. She was appointed to the Senate by her father and went on to win election in her own right.
A pro-choice Republican, moderate, and staunch ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Murkowski has antagonized her party’s conservative faction for decades but proved resilient against would-be challengers. In 2010, she lost the Republican Senate primary to Tea-Party candidate Joe Miller, but went on to win that election as a write-in candidate. She faced Miller again in 2016, who ran as a Libertarian candidate, defeating him 44.4% to 29.2%.
No fan of Donald Trump, Murkowski voted to impeach the former president, which led to a Trump-backed challenge from Tshibaka, who previously served as a commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration.
Tshibaka has accused Murkowski of voting to advance President Biden’s agenda by confirming his administrative agency nominees and campaigned on more conservative populist issues like opposing critical race theory and sexual orientation and gender identity education in schools.