ANCHORAGE — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski handily defeated her Republican challengers Tuesday to win her party’s primary and advance to the November general election.
Despite facing a field of little-known challengers, Murkowski — still smarting from a 2010 primary loss to tea party upstart Joe Miller — took nothing for granted this go-round, building a huge fundraising edge over her newer entrant opponents, traveling the state and peppering the airwaves with ads. Murkowski held onto her seat in 2010 by mounting a general election write-in campaign supported by Alaskans across the political spectrum.
On the Democratic side, former state legislator and anti-corruption crusader Ray Metcalfe held an early lead over University of Alaska Anchorage professor Edgar Blatchford.
Metcalfe has butted heads with leaders of his party. Asked if he would consider leaving the party, Metcalfe said he has problems with the party’s leadership but not its issues.
Metcalfe supported Bernie Sanders in Sanders’ unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Metcalfe says he regretted not jumping into the 2010 Senate race, in which Murkowski lost her party primary and wound up running as a write-in candidate to keep her job.
A number of independents vying to make the general election ballot are expected to be waiting in the wings, the most prominent among them being Margaret Stock, a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” winner for her work on immigration issues. Independents don’t have to go through the primary process.
Murkowski, a moderate Republican, has cast herself as a pragmatist willing to work across party lines to get things done. She is chair of the Senate energy committee, a post with significance for Alaska, and touts her willingness to take a serious, measured approach to issues.
On Tuesday, Anchorage voter Phil Cannon chose to send Murkowski back to Washington. Cannon, who is registered as an independent, said Murkowski has done good things for Alaska Natives, which is important to him because there are Alaska Natives in his family.
Another Anchorage resident, Republican Ken Owens, voted for Libertarian Cean Stevens. Owens, 70, said he can’t go along with Murkowski, who he believes is too closely aligned with President Barack Obama and Democrats.
“She’s just a bold-faced RINO as far as I’m concerned, a Republican in name only,” Owens said.
Voting at Kincaid Elementary School in southwest Anchorage, Boyd Smallwood said Murkowski stands up for Alaskans.
Murkowski’s lack of a decision on whether to endorse Donald Trump was not a consideration for him.
“It didn’t bother me one bit,” Smallwood said. “She’s going to do it anyway. If she doesn’t, she’ll probably lose next time around.”
Blatchford argued that Alaska squandered an opportunity to work with a president who expressed interest in the state and said Murkowski has put her party first. Metcalfe, meanwhile, was hoping to shake up a state Democratic Party that he believes has lost its way.
Frank Box, also voting at Kincaid Elementary, said Alaskans owe Metcalfe a debt of gratitude for being a muckraker.
“He’s a local guy who’s really done his best to expose corruption, and we need more of that exposed, not just in this state, but I think that’s a problem nationwide,” Box said.
Earlier this year, Democrats proposed allowing independents to run in their party primary, an idea that Stock flirted with partly as a way to avoid the time and expense of gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot. She even addressed Democrats at one of their presidential caucus sites in March.
A judge dismissed a party lawsuit seeking to let independents into the primary as premature since the proposal wouldn’t be final until at least May. Given the proximity to the candidate filing deadline, the party didn’t press the issue further.
Associated Press writer Rachel D’Oro contributed to this report in Anchorage, Alaska.