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Palin an interested spectator in Alaska primary

The ex-governor supports a political unknown campaigning against Sen. Lisa Murkowski. A Murkowski win would be the latest in a string of setbacks for Palin.

August 22, 2010|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin signs autographs at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Friday in New Orleans, April 2010.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin signs autographs at the Southern Republican… (Cheryl Gerber / Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington — After a string of her candidates fell short in recent election primaries, Sarah Palin takes a trackside seat in her own state Tuesday as her choice for Alaska's U.S. Senate post takes on the incumbent.

Palin's pick, attorney and political unknown Joe Miller, seems to have gained little traction against Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, according to political experts in the state.

If Miller loses, it would be the latest setback for Palin's effort this year to propel candidates nationwide through her endorsements. Candidates she backed in Washington and Wyoming lost in last week's primaries, and a Palin favorite in Georgia was defeated the week before.

The Alaska primary is one of four across the country Tuesday, in the last big package of partisan contests before Labor Day. Voters in Florida, Arizona and Vermont also will cast ballots.

Palin has developed an unrivaled ability to draw political attention with a single Twitter message or Facebook post. But the mixed record of the dozens of candidates she has endorsed reflects her uneven influence across the country, as well as her willingness to back underdogs in primary elections.

Murkowski was appointed to the Senate in 2002 by her father, Frank Murkowski, who vacated the seat to become Alaska's governor. Palin beat the elder Murkowski for governor in 2006.

Many expect Lisa Murkowski to be favored in a state where voters seem to value seniority. Her father was elected to the Senate four times, and the late Sen. Ted Stevens served 40 years. The state's sole House member, Republican Rep. Don Young, is cruising to his 20th term.

"There are some that may not like her position on things — she's seen by some as 'Liberal Lisa' — but they will swallow that," said David Dittman, a former Stevens staffer and Republican consultant. "There's not much that's more important than [seniority] to Alaska."

Palin has limited her personal involvement in the Alaska race, and Miller noted that he had received backing from other prominent Republicans, including onetime presidential contender Mike Huckabee.

"We've got lots of endorsements during the campaign," Miller said in an interview. "It certainly moved us to the national spotlight."

In Arizona, Palin has backed Sen. John McCain, who faces a challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. Two years ago, Palin and McCain were running mates on the Republican presidential ticket.

McCain, who has shed his label as a party maverick and hewed more closely to conservative orthodoxy to hold off Hayworth, is widely expected to survive Tuesday's primary.

Also in Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is riding a tide of popularity stemming from her role in the debate over illegal immigration as she campaigns for a first full term. Once considered vulnerable, Brewer saw her two main Republican opponents pull out of the race as her standing among conservatives skyrocketed.

She will face state Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard, running unopposed for the Democratic nomination, in November.

The lack of suspense in the West contrasts with rich storylines in Florida, a state that has grown accustomed to political drama. What was once a marquee race for the Republican Senate nomination is now a formality, months after Gov. Charlie Crist abandoned the party to run as an independent candidate.

Instead it is the Democratic contest generating attention. Rep. Kendrick B. Meek battles the self-financed candidacy of Jeff Greene, a billionaire real estate investor, for the right to challenge Crist and Republican Marco Rubio in November.

Similarly, billionaire candidate Rick Scott is challenging state Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Scott surged ahead of McCollum shortly after entering the race and blanketing the airwaves in April. But a Quinnipiac University poll showed McCollum has regained an advantage.

The winner of the Republican nomination will face Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, as well as independent candidate Bud Chiles, son of the state's last Democratic governor.

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