WASHINGTON -- Alaska's all-Republican congressional delegation has coalesced around an anti-Hillary Clinton sort of support for Donald Trump as he became the last man standing in the GOP race for the presidential nomination this week.
For Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both facing elections in November, questions remain about just how to navigate around a candidate at the top of the ticket who remains widely disliked, despite trouncing a seemingly endless number of GOP candidates for the nomination.
Several senators with more moderate constituencies have expressed concern about the impact some of Trump's extreme statements could have on their campaigns. Republican lawmakers are usually in a safe spot in Alaska, but they could still fall victim to a "down-ballot" effect -- losing voters who don't like the party's top candidate, whether it is to another party or if they simply decide to stay home.
Many lawmakers, including Murkowski, begged off the Trump question for months, endorsing no one.
But now that Trump has all but clinched the Republican presidential nomination, some more hesitant Republicans are starting to reluctantly shuffle toward supporting his candidacy, often touting the cause of party unity.
That includes Murkowski, who has been deliberately quiet about her presidential preferences until this week, when she issued a statement that sounded a bit like support, but didn't quite rise to an endorsement: "I have always supported the Republican nominee for president," Murkowski said.
"Elections are about choices and while Hillary Clinton is not my choice -- with her clear record against Alaska's priorities -- Donald Trump has made numerous inappropriate statements in the past that are troubling," Murkowski said. "Now, he needs to shift his focus to unite Republicans around conservative policies that will bring economic growth and prosperity back to our nation."
Murkowski's campaign spokesperson Rachel Kallander said Murkowski has never met Trump.
Young, too, responded to an inquiry with his own "anybody but Clinton" brand of tacit support for the presumptive nominee.
"After a hard fought Republican primary, it appears that Mr. Trump will be our party's nominee," Young said in a statement. "My motto has always been anybody but Hillary because I believe this nation is being led down a terrible path by those focused on top down policies and 'Washington, D.C. knows best' solutions, all of which take away individual freedom and liberty."
Young's statement said nothing else about Trump, and instead focused on his concern that Clinton will "double-down" on President Barack Obama's policies and broaden regulatory control out of Washington, D.C.
Young has previously grumbled about the state of his party's presidential campaign -- particularly Trump's comments during one debate and elsewhere about the size of his hands.
Murkowski and Young join quite a few Republican party leaders taking pains to say nothing about the nominee.
The last two Republican presidents -- George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush -- don't plan on endorsing Trump or anyone else, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, made news Thursday when he told CNN he isn't ready to endorse Trump, though he hopes to be able to do so in the future.
Sen. Dan Sullivan is the one member of Alaska's congressional delegation who has said all along he will support whomever is his party's nominee. Sullivan is not up for re-election until 2020.
Like his colleagues, however, Sullivan's party loyalty came with caveats, even more so now that Trump has secured the nomination.
"There's no doubt that a President Hillary Clinton would be akin to a third term for President Obama, and would be a mortal threat to Alaska's economic future," Sullivan said. "Therefore, while I don't support some of the rhetoric Donald Trump has used in his campaign, nor some of his policy ideas, I plan on supporting the Republican nominee at this time.
Sullivan said he is more focused on "keeping the Senate in Republican control. That's critical for Alaska, regardless of who wins the presidency," he said.
The success of GOP turnout in November could hold Congress in the balance: 24 of the 34 Senate seats up for grabs in November are currently held by Republicans. Democrats only need to pick off a handful of those to regain majority control of the upper chamber.
Just how Trump's campaign will impact down-ballot races in November is far from clear. Voters could grow to like him, particularly as more party members back his candidacy. He may tone down his rhetoric in the general election.
Murkowski's seat is not considered to be at high risk, but Trump's eventual nomination exacerbates what is so far a tightrope walk for the moderate. The senator drew much of her support from moderates and Democrats during her historic 2010 write in campaign, which she launched after losing the Republican nomination to Joe Miller.
But this year, Murkowski has a challenger to her left, independent Margaret Stock. Rumors of a conservative challenger on the Republican ticket have circulated for months, but not yet materialized. The filing deadline is June 1.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, said it is far too early to tell whether and how Trump's overall unpopularity will impact other GOP races.
The impact is complicated significantly by the fact that Clinton, who is leading the Democratic race, also has similarly high negative ratings. The phenomenon is true nationally and in Alaska, according to polling performed for Alaska Dispatch News.
"We are looking at an election cycle where for the first time in the modern era, the nominee of both political parties could not only be underwater on their image, but significantly underwater, based on what we know today," said Rob Simms, executive director of the NRCC. "And there is no one in this country that can tell you what that means, for a presidential election or any other election, be it senate, congress, mayor… or anything else, because we just don't know."
Walden said he has no worries that Trump could cause problems for Young's re-election campaign. "I'm not seeing it," he said. "Look, Don Young knows Alaska. Alaska knows Don Young. He's got a pretty good war chest, and he's doing what he needs to do."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing