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Lisa Murkowski takes shots at Sarah Palin, tea party

1. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski had some harsh criticism for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) during an interview Monday night with CBS' Katie Couric.

"I just do not think that she has those leadership qualities, that intellectual curiosity that allows for building good and great policies," Murkowski said. "You know, she was my governor for two years, and I don't think that she enjoyed governing."

The Murkowski-Palin rivalry has deep roots. In 2006, Palin defeated Murkowski's father, Frank, in a hard-fought gubernatorial primary. And earlier this year attorney Joe Miller who had the support of Palin beat Murkowski in a Senate Republican primary.

Murkowski, who pursued a write-in candidacy after losing the Aug. 24 primary, also took a shot at the tea party Monday night, telling Couric that the reason she lost her primary was because she does not "pass the purity test" that the movement has set out. She used bipartisan rhetoric in describing where she falls on the issues.

"I will tell you, I am not one of those who wants Obama to fail," Murkowski said. "If he does well, that means the country's doing well. We don't have time as a nation to spend all of what we do blocking. We have got to figure out how we get to a point where we can be sitting around the table and talking about these difficult problems and advancing some solutions."

The latest returns from the Alaska Secretary of State's office show Murkowski taking the lead over Miller in the ballot count as write-ins continue to be tabulated. "Write-in candidates" captured 40 percent on election night to 35 percent for Miller. The hand count of the thousands of write-in ballots -- nearly 93,000 -- has produced an overwhelming number of votes for Murkowski, leading her campaign to grow increasingly confident of victory.

Earlier Monday, Murkowski told reporters that she met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and that she was assured that she will retain her seniority if she, as expected, wins her write-in bid; she is the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

2. When Senate Democrats and Republicans gather Tuesday to elect their leaders for the 112th Congress, drama will be in short supply.

The Republicans ranks are expected to be unchanged while Democrats are expected to, generally, stay the course in terms of their leaders, too.

The one job that remains unfilled for Democrats, however, may be the most important one: chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

With the Senate Democrats expected to meet Tuesday, the job of the campaigner in chief remains vacant. Even those close to the situation acknowledge that no obvious solution has presented itself and suggest that the post may not be filled Tuesday. Unlike other leadership posts that are decided by a caucus-wide vote, the DSCC slot is appointed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The post is not exactly a plum. Twenty-one Democratic senators as well as two independents who caucus with Democrats are up for reelection as compared to just 10 Republican incumbents.

A slew of senators -- from past DSCC Chairman Chuck Schumer to Virginia Sen. Mark Warner to Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet -- have turned down the gig.

Speculation continues to center on Washington Sen. Patty Murray who did the job during the 2002 cycle. But Murray is already a member of the Democratic leadership in the Senate -- she's the conference secretary -- and the typical profile of a DSCC chair is someone who wants to ascend to that level.

With Republicans prepared to put Texas Sen. John Cornyn at the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for a second straight cycle, it's imperative for Democrats to find someone to begin the arduous process of convincing incumbents to stick around for one more term, recruiting challengers and raising the money needed to be competitive.

3. Former Houston Mayor Bill White (D) said Monday that he will not run for the Senate in 2012.

White, who is coming off a failed gubernatorial campaign against Gov. Rick Perry (R), said he's not done with politics, but that he won't mount a seat for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's (R) seat.

"I don't have anything in mind," White said. "But I have to figure out whether I principally manage investments in businesses or run the businesses, and then, if I run the business, what kind of business."

Hutchison is weighing whether to retire or run for reelection, while a field of Republican challengers threatens her with a primary.

Among those Republicans are Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, state Railroad Commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Ames Jones, former Secretary of State Roger Williams and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert.

On the Democratic side, former state Comptroller John Sharp campaigned for Hutchison's seat when it looked like there would be a special election, but it's not yet clear whether he is still planning to seek the seat.

4. Businessman Steve Daines became the first major challenger to Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in 2012, but it will be a while before we know whether Rep. Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont.) will also challenge him.

Daines, 48, hails from Bozeman and is an executive with a high-tech startup. He ran as lieutenant governor on an unsuccessful GOP ticket in 2008.

Rehberg, though, looms as a potentially formidable candidate in the Republican primary. A spokesman said politics will have to wait.

"Denny is focused on doing the job the overwhelming majority of Montana voters sent him to Washington to do," spokesman Jed Link said. "That means stopping job-killing tax increases and implementing real spending reform in Washington."

Rehberg has held the state's at-large congressional district since 2000 and is considered Republicans' strongest candidate against Tester.

Rehberg passed on a run against Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) in 2008. Rehberg also has the option in 2012 of running for governor, as Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) is term-limited.

5. Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch has become one of the first members of Congress to come out in support of a potential 2012 presidential candidate -- and on top of that, his preferred candidate hasn't even formally announced that he's entering the race.

Hatch said his "preference" is that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) be the party's 2012 nominee for president.

"I'm quite sure he's going to run," Hatch said of Romney, who has made no secret of the fact that he's gearing up for a bid. (In fact, Romney last week took the number-one spot in The Fix's first 2012 Presidential Line.)

Hatch endorsed Romney for president in 2008 and encouraged him to give a public address on his faith, which Romney later did; both Hatch and Romney are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Recent polling shows that Hatch, who is up for re-election in 2012, is likely to face a tough race in his own right. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz has said he is considering challenging the incumbent, and Hatch's Utah colleague, Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, was ousted at the state party convention earlier this year by conservative activists angry at his vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  | November 16, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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