in Alaska. Shushannah Walshe talks to the losing candidate about Palin's personal attacks on her family and her disturbing Facebook post.
It was an upset here before it was even over. Sarah Palin-backed Joe Miller stunned political watchers in Alaska in a nail-biter of a race with incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska GOP primary.
Currently, Miller leads Murkowski 51 percent to 49 percent with 98 percent of precincts reporting. A possible 16,000 absentee ballots still need to be counted.
If Miller is victorious over Murkowski, this will be Palin’s biggest 2010 win to date, and without question biggest upset. At his election night party at the Snowgoose Restaurant in Anchorage, Miller said Palin “brought us national prominence.”
Palin endorsed Miller in June, but it was only Friday when she took the backing one step further in a Facebook post going after Murkowski saying the “country does not need another Democrat in the Senate voting for the Obama agenda” while urging supporters to donate 30,000 dollars to Miller—"$1,000 for each of the 30 years this senate seat has been locked in by the Murkowski family."
Tuesday afternoon, at an Election Day rally in none other than Palin’s home of Wasilla, Murkowski hit back.
Senator Lisa Murkowski said of Palin’s campaign against her, “All of a sudden it became a little more personal.”
• Palin’s New Man in Alaska"The tone was directed against me rather than reasons why you should support Joe,” Murkowski told me in an interview. “But she did put a little dig in there about my family, and you can’t help but notice when she says that she encouraged people to basically pony up 1,000 bucks to raise the 30,000 dollars, they want Miller to gain and that would be a 1,000 dollars for the 30 years the Murkowski family…locked up Alaska. All of a sudden, it was like, wait a minute, if you are taking me on because you don’t think I’m conservative enough that’s one thing, but are you now suggesting that Frank Murkowski was not conservative enough and why are you looping him on this? All of a sudden it became a little more personal.”
This isn’t the first time Murkowski and Palin have battled. The Murkowski-Palin family feuding is legendary. The relationship first went south in 2002, when Murkowski’s father, Frank, overlooked Palin to replace him in the U.S. Senate when he was elected governor. Instead, he chose his daughter, Lisa, despite cries of nepotism. In 2006, Palin took out Frank Murkowski in the Republican gubernatorial primary and the testy relationship continued up through Palin’s resignation last July from the governorship, when Lisa Murkowski released a statement saying she was “deeply disappointed” that Palin had chosen to “abandon the state and her constituents.”
If Miller is indeed victorious, Palin has succeeded in taking down the Murkowski family once again.
Murkowski said that Palin’s original Facebook post endorsing Miller in June focused on the issues, but that Friday’s post went too far.
“I think that the thing that disturbed me most about her Facebook statement was the fact that she said that this race isn't just about Alaska, and I am really pretty passionate about my state,” Murkowski said in an interview. “I’m really pretty passionate about the people I represent and this is all about Alaska. This is absolutely all about Alaska. I was surprised at her choice of words."
• Mark McKinnon: 5 Lessons from the Primaries• John Avlon: A Reasons for Conservatives to Cheer• Complete coverage of the primariesAs the late Alaskan sun set, Miller and his supporters went to Election Central at the Egan Center, a traditional spot in Anchorage for candidates to watch returns come in. Murkowski did not come and remained at her headquarters. Palin wasn’t there either, but her presence was acutely felt and the location was a reminder of how she celebrated victory over Frank Murkowski at the same spot just a few years ago. It was here that Frank Murkowski congratulated the woman who beat him to become the youngest and first woman governor of the 49th state, just two years before she was catapulted to national stardom when she became John McCain’s vice-presidential choice.
Although he was clearly grateful, Miller wanted to focus on his message, not the woman who helped him get to this point. “The nation is going in the wrong direction, and this is a bipartisan message that our government is going in the wrong direction, and we’ve got to do something to change it around,” Miller said in an interview. “This is a message that both parties can embrace, it is a bi-partisan approach. Alaskans can make decisions for themselves.”
Sounding just like a candidate already in the general election, he focused on Alaska’s independent-minded voters instead of the harder right language he has used in the primary. He consistently has gone after Murkowski’s conservative credentials, trying to label her a RINO or Republican In Name Only. He has especially focused on President Obama’s health care reform bill, pressing that Murkowski does not want to repeal it, something Murkowski calls a “blatant distortion.”
Palin did not hold any events for Miller, but she did record a robo-call in the days leading up to the primary. She did not respond to Murkowski’s criticism.
Miller was also backed by former Gov. Mike Huckabee and the Tea Party Express, which came to Alaska and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Miller mostly spent on radio and television commercials. The group sent out e mails several times a day urging supporters to donate money. Earlier in the day, Murkowski believed Alaskans would reject what she saw as Miller’s negative campaigning and his help from outside the state.
At 12:30 a.m. local time, Palin tweeted her support to Miller, “g’night!May Alaska’s opportunity to export our pioneering, independent spirit come to fruition w/a miracle on ice”
And as Miller and the last of his supporters began to trickle out on to the street, his confidence was clear.
“This was a David and Goliath style battle and with the numbers we are seeing it looks like we will be successful.”
Shushannah Walshe is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.