JUNEAU — Alaska’s two U.S. senators resigned leadership posts in the state Republican party after denouncing GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and saying he should step aside.
U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan voluntarily resigned over the weekend as honorary members of the party’s state central committee, Murkowski campaign spokesman Robert Dillon said Tuesday.
Party officers are expected to back party candidates. Last month, several GOP officers resigned their posts to publicly back Republican-turned-Libertarian Joe Miller in his challenge to Murkowski in this fall’s Senate race.
State GOP chairman Tuckerman Babcock said Murkowski and Sullivan held their party leadership posts by virtue of holding elected office and would have those positions restored after the election.
On Saturday, after a 2005 video surfaced in which Trump made lewd comments about women, Murkowski said Trump had “forfeited the right to be our party’s nominee.”
She had not previously endorsed Trump.
Sullivan, who had backed Trump, withdrew his support and said he would support Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, for president.
Babcock said the state GOP remains committed to Murkowski as the party nominee in her re-election bid. The state party also remains behind Trump, he said.
When asked his reaction to Trump’s video, Miller pointed to a Facebook post he’d written saying he found Trump’s comments about women reprehensible but takes him at his word that he is “repentant.”
He called Murkowski’s position on Trump “a little curious” because Trump is the Republican nominee but said this isn’t the first time Murkowski hasn’t supported a GOP nominee, an apparent jab at her refusal to support Miller’s 2010 Senate campaign after he beat her in the GOP primary that year. She went on to win with a general election write-in campaign.
Pollster Ivan Moore said Murkowski faced less of a dilemma in taking a stance against Trump than other GOP candidates because she draws support across the political spectrum. But he said some Trump supporters might see that as the “final straw” from Murkowski and vote for Miller. One of the criticisms that Murkowski has faced is that she is not conservative enough or is a Republican in name only.
Moore believes Murkowski holds the edge in a race that also includes Democrat Ray Metcalfe and independent Margaret Stock. Murkowski on Tuesday reported that she had raised $415,000 between July 28 and Sept. 30 and had nearly $1.6 million on hand. The other candidates had not yet released their latest fundraising details.
Metcalfe said he will support his party’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, though isn’t enthusiastic about it. Independent Margaret Stock hasn’t said who she will support.
All this comes as the Senate candidates prepare for their first general election debate Wednesday night in Kodiak. They’ll be debating without Miller, who will be in Sitka, Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said.
Miller’s campaign has taken issue with some of the forums in which Murkowski has agreed to participate, seeing them as friendly to Murkowski. DeSoto said Miller has committed to four debates or forums, two of which Murkowski also plans to attend.
“I think this puts to rest the accusation that Sen. Murkowski is avoiding debates,” said Dillon, Murkowski’s spokesman.