Sen. Lisa Murkowski was booted from office in the Republican primary yesterday by a little-known conservative lawyer in arguably one of the biggest political upsets of the year.
Joe Miller, backed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express, became the latest newcomer to take down an incumbent amid dissatisfaction with the Washington establishment.
Miller’s win was a major victory for the tea party movement and marked the first time it had defeated a sitting senator in a primary.
Murkowski is needed by U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, to muster the 60 votes necessary to break Republican procedural roadblocks on the native Hawaiian sovereignty bill.
Akaka has said he is still optimistic he can get a Senate vote on the bill this year, before the political composition of the Senate changes in January after the results of the November elections. Murkowski’s term ends in January.
Murkowski trailed Miller, a Fairbanks attorney, by 1,668 votes after the Aug. 24 primary. Election officials began counting absentee and outstanding ballots yesterday, and Murkowski made slight gains. But after more than 15,000 ballots were counted, she remained 1,630 votes behind.
“We all know that this has been a long week, a terribly long week,” she said at campaign headquarters. She said that while there were still outstanding votes, “I don’t see a scenario where the primary will turn out in my favor, and that is a reality that is before me at this point in time.”
“And for that reason, and for the good of the state of Alaska … I am now conceding the race for the Republican nomination.”
The result validated the political power of Palin as the former Alaska governor in her home state has been playing kingmaker in midterm elections.
Miller, 43, is an Ivy League-educated lawyer, West Point graduate and decorated Gulf War veteran who cast Murkowski as too liberal and part of the problem in an out-of-control Washington. It is a campaign strategy that has helped beat other incumbents this year and that Republicans will employ again in November.
Murkowski has proudly touted her seniority after eight years in office, and said her roles on the appropriations and energy committees put her in a strong position to ensure Alaskans’ voices are heard. Alaska has long been heavily reliant on federal money to run — a legacy largely carved out by the late Sen. Ted Stevens.
Palin had been on a losing streak with her candidates faltering, and many were expecting similar results in Alaska. She and the Murkowski family have a complicated history.
Palin trounced Murkowski’s father, Frank, in the 2006 gubernatorial primary — the race that would launch her national political career.