(CNN)West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin endorsed Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Friday, bucking his own Democratic party and underscoring Murkowski’s reputation as one of the few Republican moderates left in the Senate.
“I’ve met a lot of good people in Alaska, they know when they’ve got the real deal. And they see the person that basically is bringing both sides together, trying to look for the best interest,” Manchin told Politico in a joint interview with Murkowski. “People understand that they have a person that understands Alaska and has Alaska in her blood and in every part of her veins and every morsel of her body.”
Murkowski, who has not officially announced her campaign, said she “would welcome his endorsement,” which reinforced the bipartisan image the three-term senator has cultivated for years.
The veteran senator now faces a backlash from some within her party after she voted to convict former President Donald Trump for inciting the deadly January riot at the Capitol based on the lie he spread that the election was stolen from him.
The race is the first proxy fight between Trump, who has pledged to defeat Murkowski in 2022, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is backing the nearly 20-year incumbent, along with Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Trump’s top political advisers have joined the campaign of Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka, a former Alaska Department of Administration commissioner who blasted Murkowski for accepting Manchin’s endorsement.
“The D.C. Swamp protects its own and Joe Manchin knows that Lisa Murkowski is more like him than the Alaskans she’s forgotten about,” Tshibaka said.
Manchin’s endorsement is also in keeping with his record as one of the few moderate Democrats left in the Senate. The West Virginia senator has said that he doesn’t think it’s appropriate for senators to campaign against each other, and supported Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins in 2020.
It’s unclear who will emerge from the Democratic party. Al Gross, an independent who lost to Sullivan last year with the backing of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, is considering another run.
If Murkowski does run, as expected, she 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.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.