by James Brooks, Alaska Beacon
July 9, 2022
In front of more than 5,000 cheering supporters at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage, former President Donald Trump fulfilled a year-old promise to campaign in Alaska against incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of seven Republicans who voted in favor of his conviction following the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that targeted Congress.
With a 90-minute speech that included a story about a trip to Iraq, conversations with foreign leaders and his thoughts on a variety of issues, Trump endorsed Murkowski’s lead Republican challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, in this year’s U.S. Senate election.
Trump also endorsed former Gov. Sarah Palin — a longtime Trump supporter — for Alaska’s sole U.S. House seat and incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who is seeking re-election.
“She’s by far the worst,” said Trump of Murkowski, who voted in favor of impeaching the former president in response to the Jan. 6 insurrection that targeted Congress.
“She voted to impeach me, and I did more for this state than any president in history. She wanted to impeach me!” Trump said.
Trump also criticized Alaska’s other U.S. senator, Dan Sullivan, for endorsing Murkowski and said he should be ashamed.
The former president highlighted policy moves popular with the audience, including the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and a border permit for a proposed Alaska-Alberta railroad.
ANWR oil leases were canceled by the Biden administration, an act subject to ongoing lawsuits, and the company behind the railroad project has filed for creditor protection after Canadian investigators found financial irregularities.
“I got you ANWR, I got you the railroad, I got you the Cove road or whatever the hell it’s called,” he said, referring to the road connecting King Cove and Cold Bay, which remains unbuilt due to ongoing lawsuits.
Trump summed up his positions with a line that received loud applause: “I’m in favor of guns, God and oil,” he said.
Murkowski spent the day on the Kenai Peninsula, meeting constituents in Kenai and Soldotna, an aide said. Saturday was the opening of the Kenai River’s dipnet fishery.
In a prepared statement, her campaign noted that it was Murkowski who orchestrated the passage of legislation that allowed ANWR drilling, and it was Murkowski who negotiated with federal officials to obtain a permit.
“It is unfortunate that Lisa Murkowski’s political opponents continue to try to deceive Alaskans by misrepresenting her strong, demonstrated record of getting the job done in the Senate,” said Shea Siegert, a campaign spokesperson for Murkowski. “Lisa has a proven history of putting politics aside and delivering for Alaska.”
Tshibaka delivered a speech before Trump took the stage, then shared time on the stage with the former president after his late arrival from an event in Nevada.
“She’s become Biden’s CEO. Yep. She’s his chief enabling officer,” Tshibaka said of Murkowski, a line that drew loud boos from the crowd.
Patricia Chesbro, the leading Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, said she intended to attend an underground pride festival in Palmer and a pro-choice rally in Anchorage. That rally was one of several planned for locations across Alaska on Saturday afternoon.
Sarah Palin says election is ‘good versus evil’
Aside from Trump, Tshibaka drew the largest cheers from an audience whose members waved Tshibaka signs and wore stickers with her name.
Palin, seeking election to the U.S. House, drew only slightly less applause than Tshibaka. Speaking to the crowd, she said this fall’s elections “are no longer Democrat versus Republican. This is all about control versus freedom. This is good versus evil.”
“We need to show up bigly to vote so that the leftists, the socialists, the RINOs, so they finally get it,” she said.
Palin said that since leaving office as governor, she has been supporting Republican candidates nationwide.
“My opponent can’t say the same. My opponent has spent that time supporting Democrats,” Palin said.
Palin faces Democratic candidate Mary Peltola in the race for U.S. House, but her comment appeared targeted at fellow Republican candidate Nick Begich, who finished second behind Palin in the June 11 special U.S. House primary election.
Begich has acknowledged voting for Ethan Berkowitz, a Democrat, in Anchorage’s 2015 mayoral race and has said that he now regrets that vote.
Begich stayed away from Saturday’s rally, instead attending events across Anchorage. Asked about Palin’s comments, he said, “She must be talking about Mary Peltola. Because I haven’t been working to get any Democrats elected to office.”
Palin hasn’t contributed to a Republican candidate in Alaska since 2008, Begich said.
“So this claim that she continues to make about helping Republicans — If she’s helping Republicans, she’s not helping anyone in Alaska. She’s been out trying to get rich and famous,” he said.
Palin, Begich and Peltola are the finalists in the special U.S. House election that will take place Aug. 16. The winner of that election will finish the House term of Congressman Don Young, who died earlier this year. All three are also running for the full congressional term, which will be decided in November.
Dunleavy is absent from Trump event
Trump’s third significant endorsement was of incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who is seeking re-election, but Dunleavy wasn’t at the rally. Trump had previously said he would endorse Dunleavy as long as Dunleavy did not endorse Murkowski.
A spokesman for the governor said he was flying out of the state on state business. Andrew Jensen, a spokesman for the governor’s campaign and a member of the governor’s state communications team, said Dunleavy had intended to meet Trump privately before leaving the state, but Trump arrived late and that meeting didn’t take place.
Unusually, Dunleavy’s campaign had no presence at the rally.
Palin and Tshibaka each had tables distributing campaign merchandise and advertisements playing on the arena’s screens. Dunleavy did not.
Shirts and signs supporting Dunleavy’s Republican challengers were infrequent but noticeable, outnumbering those of Dunleavy supporters. One attendee wore a shirt supporting independent candidate Bill Walker.
Asked why the campaign was absent, Jensen said only, “the governor’s position has and will be that he is focused on his race.”
When Trump announced his support of Dunleavy, that statement received a mixture of cheers and boos, the only time the audience voiced anything but wholehearted support for the president’s words.
Supporters of other Republican candidates, including Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and state legislator Christopher Kurka, were visible throughout the crowd. Kurka himself greeted attendees and handed out material before and after the event.
Saturday’s appearance was Trump’s most significant visit to Alaska after several stopovers on Air Force One during his time in office.
He appeared to enjoy the reception from the 5,077 people who entered the gates at the Alaska Airlines Center, praising both the state and his fans.
“By the way, is there anything more fun than a Trump rally?” he said.
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