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Lisa Murkowski gives tea party another opening, but can it cash in?

Tea Party activists have played a central role in nominating their preferred candidates in the Senate races in Kentucky, Nevada and Utah so far this year. Their next target: Alaska.

On the surface, Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- a pro-abortion rights, member of GOP leadership and supporter of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is an obvious target.

But, beating an incumbent -- even in a tumultuous election cycle like this one -- is never as easy proposition and, unlike some of her other colleagues, Murkowski is clearly paying attention to the challenge before her on Aug. 24.

To wit: Murkowski launched her first radio ad this week. The ad preemptively battles back on her TARP vote, noting she voted against the stimulus and has been "fighting against government overreach and out-of-control spending."

And, attorney Joe Miller -- the man taking on Murkowski -- is a decidedly untested candidate for the tea party nationally (and potentially other groups like the Club for Growth) to get behind. With so many successes under their collective belts already this election cycle, it's not clear that the tea party will want to roll the dice for Miller.

So, will Miller be the next Rand Paul or the next Patrick Hughes? (Hughes was the tea party candidate whose Senate primary challenge to Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk fizzled earlier this year.)

Here's a look at both sides of the coin:

Why Miller Could Win

1. Votes : Murkowski has enough baggage in the eyes of conservatives to fill several 30-second ad. In other words, this race won't just be about TARP and abortion. Murkowski has recently become an active advocate for repealing the health care bil, but in March she was against repeal (and there's video of it!).

2. Speaking : Miller is a polished speaker and seems to have the personal skills required to persuade voters in a small, retail-politics state like Alaska. While observers see him as a somewhat aloof, they acknowledge he's got the populist rhetoric that appeals to the tea party crowd down pat.

3. The ballot: Alongside the Senate race will be a ballot issue on requiring minors seeking abortions to obtain parental consent -- exactly the kind of thing that could drive social conservatives to the polls. And if they're voting on social issues, there's a good chance they're not voting for Murkowski.

4. The Murkowski name: Voters were more than happy to toss Murkowski's father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), out of office in a 2006 primary. (He won just 19 percent in the 2006 GOP primary, a race won by a little known, small town mayor named Sarah Palin.) To be sure, Lisa Murkowski has nowhere near the electoral liabilities her father carried but internecine GOP battles in Alaska are a well-worn pursuit that has often led to competitive races. (See the Palin family backing Miller in the primary.)

Why Miller Won't Win

1. Experience : Miller has little of the political kind, and he lost a state House race earlier this decade -- not exactly a good warmup for beating an incumbent senator. Murkowski, meanwhile, withstood a primary and well-funded general election opponent in 2004. (She won the primary with 58 percent and the general with 49 percent.) She can also point to the fact that, if the GOP retakes the majority, she would chair the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a hugely important post for the Last Frontier.

2. Money: Murkowski had $2.1 million in the bank as of March 31. Miller said in an interview that he has raised "tens of thousands" of dollars since entering the race two months ago. Um, ok. As for self-funding, he said he will be "putting everything into it that I can" and "using everything I have access to." But he will almost surely be heavily outspent. Said Alaska GOP consultant Art Hackney: "It gets back to money nine times out of 10. But as Palin showed, it can be about a weird wildfire that brushes across the state."

3. Outside influence: Miller is likely to get some help in the money chase thanks to third-party groups like the Tea Party Express and, potentially, the Club for Growth, which has said publicly they are considering getting involved in the race but have made no final pronouncement. But while Alaska is a cheap state to advertise in, locals don't take kindly to outside groups telling them how to vote. The Club backed now-Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell's 2008 GOP primary challenge to Rep. Don Young but came up short, even though Young trailed at one point by 20 points and was battling ethics allegations throughout the campaign.

4. Primary format : Unlike some states where only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary, Alaska allows independent voters to take part as well. That likely means a larger and more moderate electorate, which should accrue to Murkowski's benefit.

--Aaron Blake

By The Fix  |  June 24, 2010; 5:06 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Obama, the decider
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Palin's drama with the Murkowski family will end up being a huge blow to her at the end of this primary season. Palin has helped many Republican's win their primaries and have a huge boost in polls for the GE in their races, and she may end the primary season with Murkowski trouncing her hand picked GOP nominee in her home state of Alaska. I think Murkowski is a good senator and a good leader, and if I were from Alaska I'd vote for her. I don't think the people of Alaska will be fooled by an old vandeta the Palin's have with the Murkowski's and vote for Miller over Lisa. I think Palin will regret this endorsement and Sen. Murkowski will get a degree of satisfaction from beating Palin's hand picked GOP candidate. Murkowski goes on to reelection.

Posted by: reason5 | June 25, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

TO: WaPo webmaster, "Fix" readers...

Today the comments submission box on "The Fix" as well as other WaPo blogs contains a "sub-box" in the lower left-hand corner stating "300 characters remaining." I have never seen this before, and 300 characters isn't that much longer than a Twitter "tweet."

It appears what I am seeing is a "spoofed" or faked web page inserted into my data stream by a blatantly unconstitutional program of government surveillance, interception and censorship of the internet, apparently being run out of the Mid-Atlantic states (including DC) MAGLOCLEN-RissNet fusion center in Newtown, Bucks County, PA.

Please read my articles exposing covert, ideologically-driven U.S. government censorship of the internet:
OR or Facebook -- Vic Livingston

Posted by: scrivener50 | June 25, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Why not just bring up that Murkowski blocked legislation that would've raised the liability cap on oil cleanups to $10 billion up from $150 million? Portray her as a friend of Big Oil and no friend of the taxpayers. Didn't Palin already endorse Miller?

Posted by: bellsauf | June 25, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

The just love rightwing authoritarianism, dawd. a mussolini gives them the tinglies.

Posted by: drindl | June 25, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Rightwingers just want to see this country go down, margaret. All they understand is their own selfishness.

Posted by: drindl | June 25, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Look, it's a good strategy by the Republicans. If people suffer, they will blame the party in power. DDAWD

As true today as it was yesterday. I cannot believe that people really think the Obama administration is not doing enough to find our way out of this recession. As if a really deep hole like this one can be climbed out of and filled in in 2 years. The administration has spent the last 2 years trying to keep this from being worse.
And the Republicans? They are glad to put their foot out and trip Obama. They don't care what happens to voters because this is on the Democrats, isn't it? Obama cannot pull us to shore if he has Republicans rowing for the open sea.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | June 25, 2010 6:41 AM | Report abuse

"Oops. Conservative on deck! Better run for the hills and demand that more posters be banned. I notice a new NON-RASMUSSEN poll out today from WALLSTREET JOURNAL (and some one else, NBC maybe?) shows 62% to 27%, respondents believe the country's on the wrong track. And guess what? It's no longer Bush's track. Obama's approval rating is now officially underwater, and a sizable majority disapprove of his handling of the gulf crisis. Nice way to head into the midterms. Obama's beginning to look like the new Custer.

Posted by: Brigade "

You have to wonder about those 27% We have nearly 10% unemployment and a Congress in which large majorities want to do something about it. However, we also have a Senate in which a large majority can't do anything unless the large majority is greater than 60. To pick a random number, say...57...can't do anything.

Look, it's a good strategy by the Republicans. If people suffer, they will blame the party in power.

Not sure how Obama is Custer here. Conservatives are weird. First they want a general to be able to get away with insubordination. Then they expect a President to unilaterally enact domestic policy. You people are really in the wrong place if you are looking for military despot.

Posted by: DDAWD | June 24, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

Certainly churlish to be the real thand0, but who knows?

Posted by: mattintx | June 24, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse


They are all totally insane.

I wasn't here today under 7 or 8 names.

As soon as I left, they started seeing me all over the place.

It was like they were hearing voices - seeing 37th all over the place.

Yea, they are all loony. It actually is hilarious.


Posted by: 37thandOstreetRisesFromTheDead | June 24, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

So the tea party has put up far right extremist nominees in four of the most conservative, redneck, low education states in the U.S. The four states of Utah, Kentucky, Nevada and Alaska have a total population estimate in 2010 of just over 10 million or exactly 3.28% of the U.S. population. This is a fringe group, and as the elections will show in November not a significant national movement.

Posted by: cjburke3 | June 24, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Texas GOP up to dirty tricks. Apparently they weren't pleased with the last state poll in the Governor's race.

Posted by: leichtman1 | June 24, 2010 9:07 PM | Report abuse


You didn't love and worship me before.

And is that your only criteria for love???

The bad boy thing doesn't do anything for you ???


Posted by: 37thandOstreetRisesFromTheDead | June 24, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Oops. Conservative on deck! Better run for the hills and demand that more posters be banned. I notice a new NON-RASMUSSEN poll out today from WALLSTREET JOURNAL (and some one else, NBC maybe?) shows 62% to 27%, respondents believe the country's on the wrong track. And guess what? It's no longer Bush's track. Obama's approval rating is now officially underwater, and a sizable majority disapprove of his handling of the gulf crisis. Nice way to head into the midterms. Obama's beginning to look like the new Custer.

Posted by: Brigade | June 24, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

screwjob16 we don't take every loony tea bag or libertarian that puts himself forward and gets votes as you do.

Posted by: mariewilson11 | June 24, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

How is that "investigation" of your senate nominee Alvin Green of South Carolina going Dims? Hmm?

Brilliant strategy: attack your candidate two days after he is elected by a 60-40 landslide.

Posted by: screwjob16 | June 24, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

I would worship and love you if you hadn't been banned.

Posted by: mariewilson11 | June 24, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

Bob Sanderson

Your worship of Obama is not very manly.

How can you talk so glowingly of that metrosexual.

Really bizarre - are you sure your name is Bob ?


Posted by: 37thandOstreetRisesFromTheDead | June 24, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

Interesting on Palin by Greg Sargent today:

"Sarah Palin is toxic

Commentators keep telling us how influential Sarah Palin's endorsements are, and even if the whole "mama grizzly" meme is clearly overstated, there's no quibbling with the fact that Palin has pull among GOP primary voters.

But the more interesting point to be made about Palin is how toxic she's become among the broader electorate. In fact, buried in the internals of the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is an amusing number: A majority see a Palin endorsement as a clear negative.

The poll asked people how they'd respond if a Congressional candidate had various hypothetical attributes. Asked how they'd feel if a candidate were "endorsed by Sarah Palin," the response was....

Enthusiastic about this attribute 8

Comfortable with this attribute 17

Have some reservations about this attribute 15

Very uncomfortable with this attribute 37

So a majority, 52%, reacted negatively. And an astonishing 37 percent would be "very uncomfortable" about a Palin endorsement, more than four times the eight percent who would be "enthusiastic" about it.

Even better, there were only two attributes a candidate might have that were seen as worse than a Palin endorsement: Supporting Bush's economic policies; and supporting the elimination of various Federal agencies and/or Social Security.

Obviously those pointing to Palin's influence are only concerned with her impact among GOP primary voters. But the above finding is another mark of just how toxic Palin has become to the rest of the world -- and how out of sync with public opinion the media obsession with Palin's influence really is."

Posted by: mariewilson11 | June 24, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Guess there must not be a fusion center in Alaska.

Posted by: mattintx | June 24, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

If it is about Alaska, I'm not placing a bet on that horse race until Joe McGinniss lets us know who Piper is backing and anything else that might sway this race especially that oblique reference to a little garden (that has got to mean something!):

"Wonder what kind of material he'll gather while overlooking Piper's bedroom, my little garden, and the family's swimming hole?" Palin on Facebook

Posted by: BobSanderson | June 24, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Her father and husband are up to their eyeballs in graft from mineral developers.

Posted by: Geopolitics101 | June 24, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Isn't this a perfect state for Club for Growth to run a candidate? Sparse population, cheap media market, low academic achievement. Maybe it isn't Republican enough.

Posted by: margaretmeyers | June 24, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

She won the general election with 49% of the vote in a Republican year. Now she is going to build on that massive landslide by declaring that while she was for the bank bailout she was against the people bail out. She will be against Health Care, and no matter how she parses it she will be against Health Care, period. Then she is going to remind people that if the republicans retake the Senate she will me the best friend the Oil Companies ever had in the best position possible to express that friendship.

All that just to get renominated. Then the Democrats run her primary commercials under the banner, "Are you sure you want this friend of the banks and Big Oil in the Senate? Her dad went down accused of being a crook, and the dems can suggest that Lisa is definitely her daddy's little girl.

Posted by: ceflynline | June 24, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

decidedly untested candidate for the tea party nationally"

Chris help me understand what this means and who these people are...

Posted by: BobSanderson
Well "these" people aren't free lunch Dbaggers.

Posted by: leapin | June 24, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"decidedly untested candidate for the tea party nationally"

Chris help me understand what this means and who these people are...

Posted by: BobSanderson | June 24, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

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