The remaking of Murkowski?
For the first time in more than 50 years, a senator has won a campaign without the help of her party's national establishment. Lisa Murkowski, who was defeated in the Republican primary by Tea Party favorite Joe Miller, has now won the general election. By Wednesday afternoon--despite calls for a recount from Miller's camp--Murkowski had a clear enough lead that Miller would not be able to catch up.
All of which leaves the Alaskan senator in an interesting leadership position as she transitions from campaigning back to governing. While she has said she will caucus with the Republicans, she is not indebted to the national establishment, either, after their post-primary backing of Miller. And she certainly owes little to the Tea Party and its chief cheerleader, Sarah Palin, who supported Miller and campaigned on his behalf.
What kind of leader will that make Murkowski? It's too early to tell, of course. But there are signs she may be less beholden to the current waves running through her party. For one, she's already said she's against the earmark ban that Republican senators are suddenly so enthusiastic to push. While that may fight the tide of those against business-as-usual in Washington, earmarks have long been sacred cows in Alaska, which receives among the highest number of federal dollars of any state. Even Sarah Palin, according to this 2008 report, secured more than $27 million in earmarks for Wasilla while she was mayor or governor of the state.
Speaking of Palin, Murkowski was only too happy to break ranks with those in her party who are the Mama Grizzly's biggest fans and tell Katie Couric, of all people, that she doesn't think Palin is fit to be president. "I just do not think that she has those leadership qualities, that intellectual curiosity that allows for building good and great policies," Murkowski told Couric.
Of course, the Palin-Murkowski feud runs deep, and earmarks are so sacrosanct in Alaska that she is risking little by opposing the Republican party's ban. And Murkowski, like any politician, is clearly not truly independent. The top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she has received some $480,000 from the oil and gas industry over the course of her career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Still, Murkowski will be a leader to watch, keeping the possibility alive that she could decide to vote her own way, "pulling a Joe Lieberman" on occasion. She may not owe much to her party. But she may feel she owes at least something to the independents and even Democrats who swung her way.
November 18, 2010; 12:44 PM ET |
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