Woman with blonde hair in a purple dress stands at a podium
Alaska Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka speaking at the Atwood Building in Anchorage in 2019.

An early Republican candidate announced plans Monday to seek the Alaska U.S. Senate seat held since 2002 by Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Kelly Tshibaka resigned as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration and issued a statement saying she is running “for the Alaskans who believe government is of the people, by the people and for the people. The D.C. insiders need to be held accountable to us.”

In a five-minute campaign video, Tshibaka made it clear she’s running to Murkowski’s right.

“The most important relationship to me is my relationship with God,” she said on the video, filmed against a backdrop of ice floes and snowy mountains. “I won’t back down when critics attack me for it …. I’m a conservative, pro-life, pro-2nd amendment and America first.”

Murkowski is widely seen as a moderate and is sometimes at odds with her party, including on issues like abortion and in her criticism of former President Donald Trump.

Murkowski was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, who was acquitted in a trial last month of a charge of incitement of insurrection related to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.

State Republican Party leaders this month censured Murkowski over that vote and other positions she’s taken. Trump has also vowed to work for her defeat.

Sen. Dan Sullivan takes a more conservative approach than Murkowski and he was less critical of the president during the Trump administration. But Sunday Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week”  that Murkowski helped him win his seat and he endorses her.

“Look, we don’t agree on everything but we make a good team for Alaska,” Sullivan told host Jon Karl. “Yes, if Sen. Murkowski runs again, I’m going to support her.” :10

Murkowski has not announced that she is running for re-election, though her campaign filed a fresh statement of organization with the Federal Elections Commission this month. She has more than $1 million in her campaign bank account.

Tshibaka is among those who have been seen as possible candidates for the U.S. Senate race and over the last year or so has sought to raise her profile. She has used social media to promote her department’s work, highlight her family and faith and express support for Republican candidates.

Tshibaka has overseen a vast department, with agencies including the Division of Motor Vehicles, Personnel and Labor Relations and the office that maintains technology infrastructure for the state executive branch. Tshibaka has at times butted heads with unions and lawmakers over procurement issues or a proposal to close some Division of Motor Vehicle offices.

Her resume includes work in the offices of inspector general for the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice before joining Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration.

The landscape for the 2022 elections will be different. A voter initiative passed in November scrapped party primaries for a system in which the top four vote-getters advance to the general election. It also instituted a ranked-choice voting system for general elections.

Murkowski was appointed to the Senate in 2002 by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, her father, who had held the seat since 1981. She won a tight race in 2004 against Democrat Tony Knowles and in 2010, she lost her Republican primary to tea party candidate Joe Miller before winning the general election with a write-in campaign.

Murkowski easily won re-election in 2016 in a crowded field in which she garnered 44% of the vote.

Lindsay Kavanaugh, executive director of the state Democratic Party, in a fundraising appeal earlier this month, said the party was “prepping” its efforts to “retire Lisa.”

The state Division of Elections does not yet show a candidate list for next year’s races.

Alaska Public Media reporter Liz Ruskin contributed to this report.

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