Murkowski Threatened By Possible Upset In Alaska GOP Primary

Before Sarah Palin endorsed him, most Alaskans had never heard of Joe Miller. This morning, he's on the verge of upsetting an incumbent Senator in the GOP Primary.

The biggest news coming out of Tuesday’s primary elections comes from Alaska where incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski is fighting for her political life:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is battling for her political life this morning against Republican primary challenger Joe Miller, the Tea Party-backed candidate who had a slim lead as ballots continued to be counted overnight. Miller, a Fairbanks attorney, led from when the first returns came in Tuesday night, and was on the verge of pulling off one of the biggest election upsets ever in Alaska. With 84 percent of Alaska’s precincts reporting around 2 a.m., Miller had 45,188 votes to 42,633 for Murkowski.

Miller credited the support of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for his lead.

“I’m absolutely certain that was pivotal,” he said.

Murkowski on Tuesday night took a shot at Palin, saying that when Palin resigned as governor last summer she said she would use her new national role to help out Alaska.

“I think she’s out for her own self-interest. I don’t think she’s out for Alaska’s interest,” Murkowski said as she waited at her campaign headquarters for results to come in.

Miller made a triumphant entrance to election central at the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday night, surrounded by loudly cheering supporters with red-white-and-blue balloons.

“We did it!” one shouted.

Murkowski didn’t come to election central, the traditional celebratory venue for Alaska candidates. She stayed in her campaign headquarters in Midtown Anchorage to watch the returns come in.

Her campaign spokesman, Steve Wackowski, was holding out hope that she would benefit from support in rural and coastal areas of the state that hadn’t yet reported.

“We knew the race was going to be tight. The rural areas have yet to come in and we know Sen. Murkowski is going to be very strong in the rural areas.”

Most of the precincts that hadn’t reported were in rural areas, particularly Western Alaska including the regions around Bethel, Nome and Kotzebue, where paper ballots are counted by hand. Counting was to continue through the night, according to the Division of Elections. There were also some precincts yet to report in the Dillingham-Aleutians region and the university area of Fairbanks. But all those of tend to be Democratic-leaning areas where many independent voters might choose the Democratic primary ballot. Those who are registered Democrats aren’t allowed to vote in the Republican primary so can’t have a say in the Miller-Murkowski race.

The final results of the race won’t be known for over a week. The Alaska Division of Elections said over 16,000 absentee ballots were requested and as of Monday night 7,600 had been returned. The first count of absentees will be next Tuesday and there will be two subsequent counts as the absentee votes trickle in on Sept. 3 and on Sept. 8.

However it turns out, though, it’s fairly clear that most political pundits, including, yes, your humble correspondent, were completely wrong on this one and that Miller was a far stronger candidate than anyone anticipated. Over at Slate, David Weigel points to a few reasons why:

The first: The Tea Party Express threw around half a million dollars into the campaign on Miller’s behalf. That’s huge money in Alaska. Second: Measure 2, a parental consent ballot initiative, brought out pro-life voters who have never trusted Murkowski. Sarah Palin’s early endorsement also handed Miller credibility and media attention which, in a GOP primary, was more important than Palin’s increasing unpopularity in the state.

That parental consent measure passed quite handily, garnering more votes than Miller has so far, and likely did bring voters to the polls that otherwise might have stayed home. Those voters were more likely to support the more conservative Miller than Murkowski.

So, we’ll have to wait a week or more to find out who won in Alaska, but the idea that Alaska is not Tea Party country seems to have been blown out of the water.

Photo: Anchorage Daily News

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Joyner says:

    About the only thing I know about Murkowski is that her daddy appointed her to the job and that she later won the seat on her own. That’s not much to show for eight years.

  2. It’s not, but there were polls from December and earlier this year showing her approval ratings above 60%, so that would’ve seemed to count for something.

    If nothing else, this seems to show that Alaska is a very hard state to accurately poll

  3. Brummagem Joe says:

    If Murkowski goes down it will be something of a stunner and confirm the extent of the problem that the GOP has with it’s increasingly right leaning base. I think this makes the seventh or eighth case over the past couple of years where the “official” candidate has either been beaten in the primary or jumped ship because it was obvious what the result was going to be. McCain seems to have breasted this tide but then Heyworth had a mountain of baggage and I never saw him as a credible challenger. This is a party being pushed further right all the time because every incumbent Republican is going to be fearful of a challenge from his right. None of this is conducive to operating in the give and take of legislative politics and government.

  4. Joe,

    The other lesson one could draw from this is by comparing it to the McCain-Hayworth race. Unlike Murkowski, McCain took Hayworth’s challenge very seriously and went after him hard from the beginning. Based on the coverage I’ve been able to follow of the AK race, Murkowski based her campaign mostly on her record and what she’s brought to Alaska from the Federal Government — a traditional campaign platform in Alaska but maybe not what she needed to do this year.

  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    Doug Mataconis says:
    Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 08:42

    To be honest I’m not familiar with the nuts and bolts of Murkowski’s campaign but I find it hard to believe Alaskans have lost their appetite for federal largess. What does it mean for the general? Does Miller have any dead bodies buried? Who knows?

  6. Keep in mind that the Parental Consent referendum probably brought out a more conservative electorate than might be typical for the a GOP primary in Alaska

  7. RW Rogers says:

    So much for the idea that “It doesn’t look like Palin’s magic is working in her home state.” 😉 I think one could argue that Palin’s base within the divided Republican Party up north is about the same as it ever was.

    About the only thing I know about Murkowski is that her daddy appointed her to the job and that she later won the seat on her own. That’s not much to show for eight years.

    As you don’t live in Alaska, this is not surprising, is it? One doubts you know all that much more about most sitting senators as the majority of them don’t attract all that much attention outside their own state.

  8. Juneau: says:

    @ Mataconis

    Kudos, Doug, for not running from your premature story yesterday about “Palin’s” candidate in Alaska losing. Straight up play. But, at the risk of falling into the “never happy” category, I wonder why it is that yesterday, when Miller was losing, it was a sign of Palin’s fading influence, but now that Miller is winning, it’s suddenly because of funding and issues?

  9. Juneau,

    Yea I admit it, I got it wrong, but so do pretty much everyone else apparently. The media never pays attention to these Alaska races and then acts surprised when something odd happens. Witness the Stevens-Beglich race in 2008.

  10. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I cannot say Doug, that egg on the face becomes you. And you do not sound like you care for the taste of crow. You should get used to it. as it is on the bill of fare for some time for you. BJ, you speak of federal government largess. Are you talking about the act of the government taking money they did not earn from one group to give it to a small group of people who did not earn it nor deserve it? I don’t know about Americans being tired or afraid of the right wing of the GOP but I can tell you a whole bunch are both tired and afraid of the Far Left Democrats. The ones who cannot be distinguished from communists. We are not having it Joe. Wait until November if you do not believe me. Joe Biden lied yesterday about how long and when the GOP controlled the government. in 2006 the economy was well, in 2007 when the Dems controlled congress things started to go south. Facts are in the numbers BJ, not in the words of you lying spokesmen. Clinton had a good economic record because of the GOP controlled congress. A small lession in government. BJ, where do all money bills have to originate? Look it up Article 2, section 7. Then tell me how it is George W. Bush’s fault the economy took a dump. When liars frame the debate, they tend to win. Americans are aware of the BS this time BJ. Seems America does not want a communist government. What communists? How many are there in the Obama cabinet?

  11. Wayne says:

    Does this mean all your conclusions you drew yesterday are now flip? Does it mean now that the Tea Party message of limited government and less federal spending does resonate nationwide? I do respect you for admitting a mistake instead of just ignoring the story.

    IMO the message does resonate nationwide but it has little to do with a few races here or there but a trend overall. This one particular race doesn’t prove it one way or the other. Also endorsements only open doors for candidates. What they do with it reflects more on them than it does the endorser.

    FYI I hate it when people come up after an election a claim it is a mandate for this and that unless it is prominent and clear that the candidate ran on it in that election. That goes for both sides. I’m not sure what Miller ran on, but am just throwing that thought out.

  12. Wayne,

    I would say that the results do tend to show that the premises of the Slate article I linked above that Alaska is not as receptive to Tea Party arguments due to its special relationship with the Federal Government is not accurate. It was a justifiable argument to make, I think, and anyone who tells you that they foresaw Miller doing this is making it up. Murkowski may be the biggest incumbent defeat to date (of this election cycle)

  13. sam says:

    “I would say that the results do tend to show that the premises of the Slate article I linked above that Alaska is not as receptive to Tea Party arguments due to its special relationship with the Federal Government is not accurate.”

    Yeah, well, let’s just see if, when this guy is elected, he moves to shut off the federal tit that Alaska sucks on harder than any other state in the Union. Odds?