The Associated Press just called the last outstanding Senate race for GOP incumbent Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski, who lost her primary to Tea Party favorite Joe Miller, ran an historic write in campaign — the first successful one since Strom Thurmond in 1954.
As I’ve written before, Murkowski benefited from a sense of panic in the Frontier State from anyone who receives federal money. As the most highly subsidized state in the union — each Alaskan gets, on average, $9,000 a year from Washington — that’s a LOT of votes. She managed to unite the native tribes — a feat “Unlce” Ted Stevens never accomplished — as well as most of the unions, save the AFL-CIO, which endorsed the Democrat in the race, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams.
She also benefited from Miller’s campaign going off the rails. When I was up in Anchorage in October, Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich told me Miller must reach out to the middle in order to win — Alaska’s largest voting block is independents. Miller, instead, doubled down on the right. He was also plagued by a series of embarrassing disclosures: an ethics censure when he was a lawyer for the local district in Fairbanks for using government property for political ends (ironically Palin accused Ruedrich of the same violations in 2006 and had him thrown off the Oil & Gas Commission — a scandal that eventually brought down Gov. Frank Murkowski, Lisa’s dad); revelations that he’d accepted federal subsidies that he advocated abolishing; and tousles with the Palins, his benefactors, over whether Sarah Palin was qualified to be president. The investigations into his record reached a point where he stopped speaking to local press and even had an Alaska Dispatch reporter questioning him handcuffed by private security. (It’s Alaska who on earth has private security?? The governor’s in the phone book.) By the end of it the state GOP party was pretty much overtly supporting Murkowski.
So, what’s next? Murkowski resigned her leadership position — she was the No. 4 Senate Republican — when she lost the primary and that has been filled by John Barrasso of Wyoming by a conference vote yesterday. But the Energy Committee voted to allow her to keep her ranking membership in October and it seems likely she’ll get to retain that position despite defying her party and challenging Miller. She indicated in a statement yesterday that if she’d been around for the conference vote to suspend earmarking for two years last night, she would’ve voted against it. She is a prominent member of the Appropriations Committee and, after all, her ability to bring home the bacon is essentially what got her reelected.
Murkowski was reportedly wooed by Dems to switch parties but has said repeatedly that she will remain a Republican. That said, she returns to the Senate no fan of Jim DeMint, the South Carolina firebrand who endorsed a spat of conservative challengers, including Miller. (In this she has company: DeMint also endorsed primary challengers against New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Dan Coats of Indiana.) As Murkowski told me over coffee in Anchorage: “We built things because there were relationships and we weren’t so divided by our politics that we couldn’t come together. So this push toward purity, I believe, is destructive when it comes to good governance. When we align ourselves so far to the right and so far to the left that we cannot come together and build consensus — and consensus is not a dirty word, it does not mean you abandoned your principles, it means that you work together for the good of the whole.”