Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski will try to return to Congress with a write-in campaign, after losing a renomination battle to a Republican primary challenger backed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement.
“Today, my friends, my campaign for Alaska’s future begins,” Murkowski, 53, told a rally last night in Anchorage. “The gloves are off.”
Murkowski lost last month’s primary to Joe Miller, a lawyer from Fairbanks and a former U.S. magistrate judge.
In a year when small-government, anti-tax Tea Party activists have sparked intraparty Republican battles from Alaska to Delaware, Murkowski said she was getting back into the race because “we cannot accept the extremist views of Joe Miller.”
Murkowski will have to run without official help from Republican colleagues in Washington. Within minutes of her announcement, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky issued a statement saying Murkowski resigned as Senate Republican Conference secretary, a senior leadership post.
“I informed her that by choosing to run a campaign against the Republican nominee, she no longer has my support for serving in any leadership roles,” McConnell said in a statement. “I have accepted her letter of resignation from Senate leadership.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele issued a statement saying he is “confident” that Miller will win and “work to restore conservative, principled and fiscally responsible leadership to Washington.”
Write-in campaigns, in which voters are asked to back a candidate whose name isn’t on the ballot, are almost always unsuccessful; only Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in 1954 won election to the chamber through that method, according to the Senate historian’s office.
Murkowski urged supporters to overcome the long odds against write-in candidates. “They tell us this is impossible,” she said. “Together we can do what they say cannot be done.”
Speaking to backers who chanted “run, Lisa, run,” Murkowski said requests from Alaska residents to continue her campaign have “been almost overwhelming.”
Besides describing Miller as an extremist, Murkowski took a barely veiled shot at her opponent’s ally, Palin, who resigned as Alaska governor in July 2009 after running as the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee.
“Perhaps it’s time they met one Republican woman who won’t quit on Alaska,” Murkowski said.
Palin said after a speech in Iowa last night that Murkowski wasn’t a threat to Miller.
“It’s a futile effort on her part, it really is,” Palin said. “Joe Miller is the right person to help lead the state and the country.”
Texas Senator John Cornyn, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he is “deeply disappointed” in Murkowski’s decision to ignore a “clear message” from Alaska’s Republican primary voters.
Miller, 43, said during a Sept. 11 interview in Wasilla, Alaska, that “it’s not going to matter” whether Murkowski runs as a write-in candidate. “The campaign is going to be run pretty much the same whether she’s in or out,” he said.
Democratic nominee Scott McAdams, 39, the mayor of Sitka, said in an interview on Sept. 13 in Anchorage that he would welcome Murkowski back into the race.
“I have a lot of respect for Senator Murkowski and the service that she provided to Alaska,” he said. “I believe that her heart is with Alaska, and whatever she decides to do, I can appreciate.”
The Tea Party Express political action committee poured money into advertising and e-mail blasts for Miller, who criticized Murkowski for her support of the 2008 federal government bank bailout. The group spent more than $400,000 on the race in August, Federal Election Commission reports show.
Palin, 46, defeated Murkowski’s father, then-Governor Frank Murkowski, in Alaska’s 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary, and won the office that November.
Frank Murkowski, 77, left the Senate when he won the governor’s office in 2002 and named his daughter to replace him. Lisa Murkowski won a full term in 2004.