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Pro-Trump challenger’s residency issues catch Murkowski’s eye

By Manu Raju and Alex Rogers, CNN

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has not yet said whether she’ll run for reelection in 2022 — but she is well aware of potential baggage one of her challengers could be carrying.

Murkowski took aim at her would-be GOP challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, over the candidate’s ties to Alaska in an interview with CNN, an opening salvo in what could emerge as the most high-profile proxy war between Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and former President Donald Trump in next year’s midterms.

Murkowski alluded to a state investigation into whether Tshibaka illegally obtained a fishing license for a sportfishing event in 2019 because she had not lived in the state for the previous 12 months.

“Alaskans take their fishing very seriously,” Murkowski said. “She’s got a problem with her fishing license and residency problem.”

“That’s not what I care about,” she added. “That’s what others care about.”

Asked what she thought about her potential opponent, Murkowski said, “I don’t know her. She just came back to the state a couple years ago.”

Tshibaka, a former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner, has offered herself as a vessel for Trump supporters, earning the former President’s endorsement in June as he embarked on a revenge campaign against Republicans like Murkowski, who believed he should have been convicted for high crimes and misdemeanors for inciting the January 6 insurrection.

Tshibaka, who has questioned the legitimacy of Biden’s win, got fresh scrutiny in Alaska a month after she won Trump’s backing.

The Anchorage Daily News reported that Alaska Wildlife Troopers were probing whether Tshibaka illegally received a resident sportfishing license for a Kenai River sportfishing event in 2019 because she allegedly received the permit just eight months after she moved back to Alaska. The report noted that knowingly violating the state law is a misdemeanor subject to a fine of up to $300.

The Associated Press then reported in August that law enforcement officials had completed their investigation and referred it to Alaska’s Department of Law. Jenna Gruenstein, the chief Assistant Attorney General of the Alaska Department of Law’s Office of Special Prosecutions, told CNN, “The review of this matter is still in progress.”

Tim Murtaugh, a senior adviser to the Tshibaka campaign, said that Tshibaka was invited to the charitable event in her official capacity as Alaska’s Administration Department commissioner. He said the form was filled in for a license that expired after one day, showing a “clear intent to purchase a non-resident license,” even though someone also punched in the hole for a resident license.

“Lisa Murkowski is clearly worried about Kelly, if she is willing to attack her on this,” said Murtaugh.

The Tshibaka adviser then attacked the senator, saying she promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act before voting to keep it, and voted to confirm the “energy-annihilating” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “Murkowski has a long record of demonstrating a lack of integrity that always comes at the loss of jobs, rights, and safety of Alaskans,” said Murtaugh.

The Alaska race is one Trump’s top-tier targets — where he is bound to face off against McConnell and his well-funded super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund.

Asked Thursday if his group is prepared to engage to help Murkowski, McConnell told CNN: “Absolutely.”

“I fully expect her” to run, he added.

Murkowski herself has been coy about whether she will run again, saying Thursday in the Capitol: “I am not announcing anything at this point in time.”

But she earlier said “not at all” when asked if she had any concern about facing a Trump-backed challenger.

“I have dealt with these things in the past,” the moderate Republican said, a reference to overcoming a backlash from conservative Republicans in her 2010 race.

Both Murkowski and Tshibaka boast of their Alaska bona fides. Tshibaka’s campaign website notes she was born in Alaska and grew up in Wasilla and Anchorage. Before joining Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, Tshibaka worked in the offices of the inspector general for the US Postal Service, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice in Washington, DC. Tshibaka has tried to cast Murkowski’s experience in the Senate as a downside, saying that Alaskans “feel forgotten” by the senator.

Murkowski notes on her official website that she is “a third-generation Alaskan proudly serving as the first Alaskan born senator.” She was first appointed to her seat in 2002 by her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Issues of residency have dogged Murkowski’s opponents in the past. In 2010, Murkowski lost in the GOP primary to Tea Party candidate Joe Miller, but later waged a rarely successful write-in campaign in the general election. Miller’s critics also seized on stories questioning whether he fulfilled the residency requirement for a hunting and fishing license when he was finishing up Yale Law School.

If she does run, as expected, Murkowski could very well benefit from a new system where candidates run together in a nonpartisan primary, and the top four finishers advance to the general election, when voters rank their preferences.

While Murkowski has not officially entered the contest, Tshibaka has already lambasted the senator for the Alaska Republican’s penchant for cutting deals with Democrats and breaking from Trump.

But Matthew Shuckerow, the campaign manager for Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan’s 2020 race, said that Murkowski could be rewarded for striking an agreement on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that will send federal money to rebuild Alaska’s roads, bridges, and ports.

“Alaskans have grown to expect a congressional delegation that delivers big for our state,” Shuckerow said. “Senator Murkowski, Sullivan and Congressman [Don] Young have done just that.”

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Ali Zaslav contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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