Republican Buzz Kelley, who finished fourth in Alaska’s U.S. Senate primary election and is set to appear on the November general election ballot, announced Monday that he was suspending his campaign and endorsing fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka.
Kelley finished fourth in the open primary held Aug. 16, with just over 2% of votes. The top finisher was incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski with 45% of votes. Tshibaka, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, was in second with 38.5%. Democrat Pat Chesbro was in third with under 7%, in a field of 19 candidates.
Kelley’s fourth-place finish came as a surprise; he is a retired union mechanic from Wasilla who has never held political office. Tshibaka and several political observers posited that some of the votes he garnered were meant for Tshibaka, who’s campaign slogan is “Kelly for Alaska.”
Despite his decision, Kelley’s name will appear on the November ballot because he made the decision after the Sept. 5 deadline for his to be replaced with that of the fifth place finisher.
Kelley made the announcement that he was pausing his campaign on a conservative talk radio program hosted by Dan Fagan. Kelley himself suggested that some of his success in the primary was due to 12 homemade campaign signs, one of which he had welded to the roof of his car.
“It’s just me and my 12 signs,” Kelley told Fagan on Monday, before announcing that he was suspending his campaign and “asking all those who supported me or my ideas to throw your support behind Kelly Tshibaka.”
In a call later to the Daily News, Kelley said he made the decision in light of Mary Peltola’s recent win in the U.S. House special election.
“The Aug. 16 Peltola victory just really made pretty clear what happened,” he said. “Divide and conquer.”
Peltola, a Democrat, won a special U.S. House election after the two Republicans in the race — former Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich — failed to coalesce enough support to beat her in the state’s first ranked choice election. Some political observers have said that outcome is due to the two Republicans’ negative comments about each other throughout the campaign. Nearly half of the supporters of Nick Begich, who finished last in the special election, didn’t rank a second choice or ranked Peltola second.
Kelley said Tshibaka is “our best bet to deny Murkowski.” He has said he supports Trump’s agenda and on his campaign website said that “socialist militants and wealthy little Hitlers seek to divide our country and pull America down into a socialist cesspool.”
“I am in the process of repurposing the hard right turn Subaru into a Kelly Tshibaka Subaru. I hope she’s okay with that,” Kelley told Fagan, referring to his campaign slogan.
Reacting to Kelley’s decision, Tshibaka said in a statement that she is “honored to have Buzz Kelley’s support” and she agrees “with his conclusion that presenting a unified front gives us the best opportunity to beat Lisa Murkowski.”
Murkowski’s campaign declined to comment on Kelley’s decision.
Kelley said he’s taken a couple lessons from his experience running for office.
“Politics is messy,” he said. “It also keeps you real busy.”
But he said it didn’t sour him on from possibly running for office in the future.
“I’m going to keep my eyes open for the kind of like the next project, so we’ll see what comes up,” he said.
The ADN’s Marc Lester contributed to this story.