Sen. Lisa Murkowski wins re-election in Alaska, fending off Trump-backed challenger Kelly Tshibaka

Murkowski, one of only seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial, emerged victorious after the race went to a ranked-choice runoff.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski attends a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on July 28, 2021. Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has won re-election in Alaska, NBC News projected Wednesday, dealing former President Donald Trump another loss in what has largely been a miserable midterm cycle for his hand-picked candidates in competitive Senate races.

Murkowski, one of only seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump at his second impeachment trial, survived a challenge from Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka, a former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner.

“I am honored that Alaskans — of all regions, backgrounds and party affiliations — have once again granted me their confidence to continue working with them and on their behalf in the U.S. Senate,” Murkowski tweeted Wednesday night. “I look forward to continuing the important work ahead of us.”

Murkowski's re-election victory came in the state's first Senate contest to be decided by ranked-choice voting.

Rather than limiting voters to one choice, the format allows for candidates to be ranked in order of preference. Neither Murkowski nor Tshibaka, the top two-vote getters in the first round of the Nov. 8 general election, had a majority after first choices were tabulated, triggering runoff rounds Wednesday in which ballots listing eliminated candidates were reallocated to the voter’s next choices. 

Murkowski, Tshibaka, Democrat Patricia Chesbro and Republican Buzz Kelley all advanced from a nonpartisan August primary. Kelley later dropped out and endorsed Tshibaka, but he remained on the ballot. Wednesday’s runoff began with the second-choice votes from those who preferred the last-place Kelley being dispersed among the remaining three candidates. Chesbro was eliminated next, and the second-choice votes from her ballots helped put Murkowski over the threshold.

Tshibaka acknowledged her loss and congratulated Murkowski in a statement Wednesday night, while criticizing Alaska's ranked choice voting system.

“It’s clear from the ranked choice tabulations that Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been re-elected, and I congratulate her on that," Tshibaka said. "The new election system has been frustrating to many Alaskans, because it was indisputably designed as an incumbent-protection program, and it clearly worked as intended."

From the start, the race largely centered on the two leading Republicans and their relationships with Trump.

Tshibaka, for example, had made waves by vowing not to support another Trump foil, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for another term as the Senate’s GOP leader if she was elected.

In her statement Wednesday, Tshibaka blasted McConnell for spending "millions of dollars in this race on deceptive ads to secure what he wanted — a Senate minority that he can control, as opposed to a majority he could not.” 

Murkowski became a target for the right after emerging as a rare Republican officeholder willing to criticize Trump and eventually convict him for what she believed was his incitement of the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The Alaska Republican Party censured her and Trump began calling her the “disaster from Alaska,” ultimately backing Tshibaka to challenge her.

Murkowski also is known for her moderate profile in the Senate and for her willingness to work with Democrats. She was one of only three Republicans who voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in April. She has bucked her party in other big votes during Trump’s administration, as well, voting with Democrats and a handful of other Republicans to block the GOP’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In a recent campaign ad summing up her closing argument, Murkowski vowed to “work with anyone, from either party, to advance Alaska’s priorities.”

Advocates of ranked-choice voting, a system that received national attention for its use in last year’s New York City mayoral election, believe the setup benefits moderate candidates who don’t play to either party’s fringe and work hardest to appeal to the broadest group of people. 

In the race for Alaska's at-large House seat, incumbent Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, was elected to a full two-year term, defeating Republican Sarah Palin, the former governor and vice presidential nominee, NBC News projected.

Peltola had already made history in August, becoming the first Native Alaskan seated in Congress after she won the special election to replace longtime GOP Rep. Don Young, who died in March at the age of 88. Young and the GOP had controlled the seat for nearly five decades before her win.