Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski easily won her Tuesday primary, a very different outcome from her primary loss six years ago that forced her to wage a general election write-in campaign to win back her seat.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Murkowski got 72 percent of the vote in the four-way primary, earning nearly five times more votes than second-place finisher Bob Lochner, who had 15 percent.
Murkowski got her campaign up and running much earlier this cycle than she had in 2010, and she spent much more money getting her name out and visiting the state’s more conservative pockets.
By the end of July 2016, Murkowski’s campaign — without facing a serious primary threat — had spent $4.6 million. At the same point in 2010, her campaign had spent only $2.2 million.
After losing to tea party-backed candidate Joe Miller in 2010, Murkowski did what only one other senator had done before her: win the general election through a write-in campaign.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and GOP leadership backed Miller once he won the nomination and pushed Murkowski aside when she challenged him in the general.
“I informed her that by choosing to run a campaign against the Republican nominee, she no longer has my support for serving in any leadership roles,” Mitch McConnell, then the Senate minority leader, said in 2010.
But that seemed like a distant memory after Tuesday’s victory which the NRSC enthusiastically welcomed.
“She puts Alaska first each and every day, fighting to make sure that the Alaska way of life is safe from politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.,” NRSC Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi said in a statement.
Since winning re-election in 2010, Murkowski has taken up the gavel of two committees important to her state — the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior and Environment.
The seniority she’s accumulated for the state was an argument her supporters made for keeping her in office.
“We need to have Lisa in her position as chair of Senate Energy,” former Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said in email to Roll Call Monday.
Murkowski has a reputation for reaching across the aisle and bucking her party on some hot-button issues like gay rights, voting rights and whether President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee should get a Senate hearing.
She’s the third-most moderate senator on the Club for Growth’s 2015 rankings, and some of her positions continue to anger conservatives in the state.
But none of the conservatives who initially talked about challenging Murkowski this year ended up launching a primary bid.
Former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan (no relation to the state’s junior U.S. senator of the same name) filed a primary challenge at the last minute but quickly dropped it.
Miller, who lost to Murkowksi by 4 points in the 2010 general election, and then lost the 2014 primary against Sen. Dan Sullivan, left the door open to another run until the filing deadline.
“We all felt that we could probably beat her in the primary again,” Miller told Roll Call Monday.
He didn’t follow through, he said, because he thought Sullivan would be on the ballot and he wasn’t prepared to make the familial and financial sacrifice of another campaign.
The three other Republicans on the ballot didn’t come close to rivaling Murkowski’s fundraising and didn’t have the name recognition that a bigger-name Republican, like Miller, would have had.
In the general election, Murkowski will face Ray Metcalfe, who won 60 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary over Edgar Blatchford, Libertarian Party nominee Cean Stevens, and independent Margaret Stock, who had at first sought to run on the Democratic Party line in the primary.