Alaska Republican Party leaders voted to censure Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, in a move to signal their disapproval of his support for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s re-election over her right-wing challenger Kelly Tshibaka.
The Alaska GOP state central committee, made up of district and committee chairs from across the state, voted 49-8 over the weekend to censure the nation’s top elected Republican after his leadership political action committee, the Senate Leadership Fund, spent millions on ads attacking Tshibaka.
The ads allege that Tshibaka, a candidate endorsed by both the Alaska GOP and former President Donald Trump, “has been ripping off Alaska taxpayers.”
The resolution censuring McConnell, which has no binding power, calls the attack ads “divisive and misleading” and laments the “inappropriate use of millions of dollars” to oppose Tshibaka, who is endorsed by the Alaska GOP. The resolution goes on to request that the Senate Leadership Fund “immediately stop the attack ads against Kelly Tshibaka and discontinue the support of all other opposing candidates.”
McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment. McConnell has previously said it’s “important” for Murkowski to win re-election, calling her a “key player in advancing bipartisan legislation.”
In a statement Monday, Tshibaka said Murkowski is “aligning herself with Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell.” Murkowski’s campaign has focused on her bipartisan legislative efforts, including the federal infrastructure bill.
“The millions of dollars Mitch McConnell is spending on lies about me could be put to better use in other states where a Republican has a chance to beat a Democrat. And the Alaska Republican Party has just told him to butt out of our state,” Tshibaka said.
Murkowski’s campaign did not immediately respond to questions about the vote. While McConnell’s leadership PAC has spent millions attacking Tshibaka, Murkowski’s campaign has remained largely focused on her own record, boosted by a cash advantage over Tshibaka to the tune of millions of dollars.
The vote to censure McConnell came with two weeks to go until the November election. The Alaska GOP leaders voted to censure Murkowski in March 2021 and asked her not to run as a Republican.
The Senate Leadership Fund ads are based on an investigation, conducted while Tshibaka was working for a federal agency in a nonpartisan role in 2011, that found she reported working almost 600 “questionable hours.” Tshibaka has said she was “exonerated” from the investigation. At its conclusion, she remained employed in the same federal agency.
The ads also target her for her $81,000 in moving expenses when she moved in 2019 from Washington, D.C., to Anchorage with her husband and five children to take a job in administration of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Tshibaka has said the inflated moving costs — far above the costs of equivalent moving expenses — were due to state regulations that forced her to choose a fraudulent moving company. Most recently, the Senate Leadership Fund ads have attacked Tshibaka’s record of violating the state’s fishing laws.
Leaders of the Alaska GOP said the censure vote came after some local district leaders voted to censure McConnell and pushed for a statewide resolution.
“I have been disturbed and I have been asking for the party to make a statement,” said Cynthia Henry, one of three Alaska Republican Party leaders who are also voting members of the Republican National Committee.
“If this were the other side saying these things, we would have probably jumped on it quicker, but it is hard to criticize one of the most powerful senators in the country,” said Henry.
Henry said that the Alaska Republican Party and McConnell “don’t have much of a relationship” and that she didn’t expect it to lead to any “immediate reaction” from McConnell or his staff.
“But I do think it is good for Alaskans to see that the party is making a statement about this because those ads are pretty egregious,” said Henry.
Craig Campbell, a Republican National Committeeman from Alaska and a former lieutenant governor of the state, said the resolution is “a statement of intent.”
Campbell said he is “affronted” that McConnell would direct millions to be spent in Alaska, despite the assurance that whether Tshibaka or Murkowski prevail, the seat will remain in Republican control. Tshibaka and Murkowski also face a Democratic candidate — retired educator Pat Chesbro — but she is not expected to garner broad support.
“It’s a breach of faith, a breach of trust,” Campbell said.
But the opposition to McConnell within the Alaska Republican Party is not monolithic. Duncan Fields, chair of District 5 of the Alaska GOP that covers Kodiak, is supporting Murkowski and rebuked other party leaders for the censure.
“They say, Mitch McConnell, despite the fact that you’re a recognized leader in the Republican Party… despite the fact that you’re the one that works for Sen. Murkowski and you know what she does and you know how important she is to the country — despite all that, we’re going to tell you that you shouldn’t support her. To me, that’s foolishness. To me, that’s hubris, to have somebody in Alaska tell the Senate Minority Leader that they don’t know what they’re doing,” Fields said.
Daily News reporter Sean Maguire contributed to this story.