Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, might not want her Democratic colleague, Mark Begich, to win re-election in 2014, but her habit of breaking with the GOP on several key votes could give him some political cover ahead of 2014.
"As an Alaska delegation, we've got to be working on those issues that are important to our constituents," Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News this week. "Sen. Begich has been keying in on the issues that I think Alaskans are worried about and doing what he was tasked to do."
"I'm going to be working to get Republicans elected," she later added.
Murkowski, once a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, has broken ranks several times since her 2010 re-election victory as a write-in candidate. Murkowski votes with her party only 61 percent of the time, according to data compiled by the Washington Post's Congress Votes Database.
For Begich, that means any Republican candidate who criticizes his stance might also be disparaging Murkowski.
Before Democrats changed the Senate's procedural rules, Murkowski was one of two Republicans to consistently vote with Democrats to open debate on nominees, even as her other GOP colleagues filibustered them. She was the third Senate Republican to back gay marriage.
Murkowski supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. She voted for a comprehensive immigration overhaul this Congress, after voting last Congress to pass the DREAM Act. And she helped initiate the resolution that ended October's government shutdown by working with other moderate senators on a compromise.
The list goes on — and it notably does not include health care and other Democratic priorities on which Begich voted with his party. Republicans nationwide are trying to make the president's health care law a major campaign issue in 2014, especially in states that tend to favor the GOP, such as Alaska.
But on many issues distinctly important in Alaska, from energy and drilling to opposing further gun control, the senators from the Last Frontier State have voted together. For example, Murkowski and Begich both voted against expanding the federal background check system last spring.
Three Republicans are vying to challenge Begich: former Alaskan Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, and Joe Miller, who won the GOP nod in 2010 but lost to Murkowski's write-in campaign on Election Day. Murkowski has not picked a favorite in the race, but she made it clear she is not thrilled about Miller.
Many Democrats facing tough re-elections don't have the luxury of serving with a more moderate senator from across the aisle. For example, Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., serve their states alongside Sens. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., and John Boozman, R-Ark., who vote with the GOP 91 percent and 90 percent of the time, respectively.
"Senators Murkowski and Begich are often aligned on issues with a narrow focus or impact on Alaska," Murkowski spokesman Matthew Felling said. "However, a wider view at major policy votes shows a clear contrast, whether it is health care reform, the stimulus bill, the Democrats invoking the 'nuclear option' and ending 200 years of Senate procedure — where Senator Begich has voted with the Democratic majority consistently."
This race is rated a Tossup/Tilt Democratic contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.