Don’t count her out, yet

After getting run over by the Tea Party Express in the primary, an Alaskan senator considers a comeback

Mark Thiessen/AP/CP

When Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska, recently conceded the primary to her opponent Joe Miller, her loss was considered a victory for former governor Sarah Palin—and the Tea Party movement that’s sweeping America. Murkowski, 53, was expected to win. After all, she’s a Republican power player from one of the most prestigious families in Alaskan politics, and part of the GOP leadership in Washington. She had more than 10 times as much money for her campaign as Miller, and the political clout and experience to match her war chest.

But Miller—a 43-year-old attorney and virtual unknown in Alaskan politics until Palin endorsed him—managed to upset Murkowski’s 30-year family legacy in that Senate seat. (Murkowski’s father was a former governor, and senator for Alaska.) The Tea Party Express pumped some US$600,000 into an advertising campaign that attacked Murkowski, erroneously claiming that she supported President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package, and that she did not want to repeal health care reform—even though she does.

Since then, the Republican Party has been throwing its support behind Miller, a hardline conservative with little political experience. Said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, “I have no doubt that he will be elected as the next U.S. senator from Alaska.” And this narrative of a little-known politician toppling an incumbent senator from the Republican establishment is not exclusive to Alaska. Miller is part of a group of Tea Party candidates who have been emerging as the Republicans of choice in Senate races this year from Florida to Colorado.

However, Murkowski, with GOP blood running through her veins, is not one to easily give up. Just over a week after her defeat, she announced she’s still ready to fight for her seat in the race for the November general election, should Alaskans want that. Supporters have overwhelmed her with a flurry of emails and phone calls, requesting that she does not step down. She said, “I’m not a quitter, never have been. And I’m still in this game.”

If she decides to run, she could announce her candidacy as early as this week. Her friend Andrew Halcro, an Anchorage politician, said this would be “the kind of campaign you should have seen in the primary”: “no-holds-barred, pedal-to-the-metal stuff.”

But this would be an uphill battle for Murkowski. She has lost support from the Republican establishment, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which now backs Miller. The moderate Republican has already met with the Alaska Libertarian Party to see if she could run on their ballot, although their politics were too disparate. Her other option would be an independent write-in candidacy, but few national candidates have been elected by convincing voters to write their names at the bottom of their ballots.

Of course, Murkowski could also stay out of the race. For now, she says she’s listening to the people of Alaska, and giving “considered thought” to what they want. And it just could be that what Alaskans want may have more of a Sarah Palin flavour.