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Democrat Gray-Jackson enters Alaska US Senate race

February 10, 2022 GMT
Alaska state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, a Democrat, stands outside the state Division of Elections office in Juneau, Alaska, on Feb. 10, 2022, after filing papers to run in the U.S. Senate race this year. The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Republican Lisa Murkowski, who is seeking reelection. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Alaska state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, a Democrat, stands outside the state Division of Elections office in Juneau, Alaska, on Feb. 10, 2022, after filing papers to run in the U.S. Senate race this year. The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Republican Lisa Murkowski, who is seeking reelection. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Alaska state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, a Democrat, stands outside the state Division of Elections office in Juneau, Alaska, on Feb. 10, 2022, after filing papers to run in the U.S. Senate race this year. The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Republican Lisa Murkowski, who is seeking reelection. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
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Alaska state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, a Democrat, stands outside the state Division of Elections office in Juneau, Alaska, on Feb. 10, 2022, after filing papers to run in the U.S. Senate race this year. The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Republican Lisa Murkowski, who is seeking reelection. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
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Alaska state Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, a Democrat, stands outside the state Division of Elections office in Juneau, Alaska, on Feb. 10, 2022, after filing papers to run in the U.S. Senate race this year. The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by Republican Lisa Murkowski, who is seeking reelection. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A Democratic state lawmaker has announced her bid for the U.S. Senate seat in Alaska held by Republican Lisa Murkowski.

State Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, a former Anchorage Assembly member in her first term in the Alaska Legislature, filed candidacy papers with the Alaska Division of Elections on Thursday. Gray-Jackson is the first Democrat to join a field of contenders that also includes Republican Kelly Tshibaka, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and state Republican party leaders. Murkowski is seeking reelection.

Gray-Jackson, in a statement, said Alaskans “need a leader who will truly work to be the bridge between the opposite sides of the aisle.”

She became emotional speaking with reporters about her decision to run. She said public service is her passion.

She cited support for abortion rights and voting rights and concerns with issues related to health care and the economy. She said health care costs are unaffordable and that workers “need living wages.”

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Gray-Jackson said she enjoys “helping Alaskans navigate through government, helping them work through drainage issues and potholes.” She said she responds to emails she receives personally, and “my constituents know that when they write to me that they’re going to hear from me.”

She said she intends to continue serving out her term in the state Senate while making her run. She was elected to the Alaska Senate in 2018.

An election system, adopted by Alaska voters in 2020, will be used for the first time in this year’s elections. It ends party primaries — meaning all candidates will appear on one ballot, with the top four vote-getters in the primary, regardless of party affiliation, advancing to the general election. Ranked choice voting will be used in the general election.

Gray-Jackson said with ranked voting, Alaskans “will now be able to vote their values, and that’s what’s important. They’ll have that opportunity.”

The number of people who are registered as “undeclared” in Alaska is greater than the number of those registered as Republicans, Democrats or with the Alaskan Independence Party combined, according to Division of Elections statistics. Currently, Alaska’s top elected leaders — members of its congressional delegation and governor — are all Republicans, and Republicans have a majority of seats in the state House and Senate. However, the House has organized in such a way that a bipartisan coalition that includes Democrats, independents and Republicans is in charge of that chamber.

The chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party, Casey Steinau, lauded Gray-Jackson’s candidacy, calling her smart, strong and “the right woman for the job.”

Some Democrats and independents in the Legislature have come out in support of Murkowski, who has a reputation as a moderate and has at times been at odds with her party, including in her criticism of Trump.

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State Sen. Bill Wielechowski, like Gray-Jackson an Anchorage Democrat, was among those gathered at the Division of Elections Thursday. He said he was there supporting Gray-Jackson.

The campaigns of Murkowski and Tshibaka took jabs at each other in commenting on Gray-Jackson’s addition to the race.

Nate Adams, Murkowski’s campaign manager, in a statement said that “there are now two candidates, Senator Murkowski and Elvi Gray-Jackson, in this race with decades of public service to Alaska and a track record on which to run.” He said Murkowski looks forward to “defending her record of bipartisan leadership to continue to deliver for Alaskans.”

Tshibaka, a former commissioner of the state Department of Administration, in a swipe at Murkowski, said with Gray-Jackson running there were “two Democrats for voters to consider.” Tshibaka, in a statement, said Gray-Jackson and Murkowski “represent political views that are out of step with everyday Alaskans.”

Murkowski last year said she’s always been a registered Republican.

So far, 11 others have filed as candidates with the Division of Elections, including Murkowski.

Tshibaka, who announced her bid last March, has not yet filed though she has been raising money and was expected to take part in a fundraiser hosted by Trump that was scheduled for Thursday in Florida. Candidates have until June 1 to file with the division for the August primary.

Murkowski has led Tshibaka in fundraising, holding a huge cash-on-hand advantage at the end of last year, the most recent reporting period. One other candidate, Libertarian Sean Thorne, has reported limited fundraising activity with the Federal Election Commission.

Jerry Anderson, the administrator of Alaska’s Select Committee on Legislative Ethics, said a state legislator can fundraise for their own federal campaign during regular or special legislative sessions.

Gray-Jackson noted this. “And I’m going to work hard like I usually do. I’m a really good fundraiser and folks know that,” she said.