Murkowski's Alaska Primary a Test of Sarah Palin's Pull

Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee have endorsed her primary opponent.

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Tuesday will be a day of reckoning for incumbents, self-financers, and Tea Party candidates alike, as primaries in five states simplify some of this year's most hard-fought congressional races. This big day will feature Senate, House, and gubernatorial races in Alaska, Arizona, Florida, and Vermont, as well as a run-off Republican primary in Oklahoma's second congressional district. Republican incumbent senators John McCain and Lisa Murkowski will face off against Tea Party upstarts, while the pools of candidates will be pared down in hotly contested open races, like that for Florida's open Senate seat. 


Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski is one of two incumbent GOP senators today facing a challenge from her right. While Arizona's John McCain feels the heat from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Murkowski is facing off against attorney Joe Miller. The Tea Party-backed Miller has a list of endorsements that includes such GOP stars as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Fox News Channel host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and conservative radio personality Laura Ingraham. Murkowski has countered by touting her achievements and seniority in the Senate chamber. 

Miller has taken in just over $300,000 in campaign funds, including $103,921 that he has loaned to his campaign. However, he also has substantial grassroots support, with nearly half of his contributions--over $144,000--coming in the form of donations of $200 or less. His pre-primary fundraising report to the Federal Election Commission reported $84,204 in the bank as of August 4. Like most challengers, Miller is at a great financial disadvantage--Murkowski has reported nearly $3.7 million in receipts and $1.9 million left in her campaign coffers. 

Three candidates will be on the ballot for Alaska's Democratic Senate primary, though none appear to be in a position to seriously threaten either Murkowski or Miller in the GOP-leaning state. Many analysts predict Alaska's Senate seat to stay Republican this fall regardless of the primary outcomes. Furthermore, Democratic candidates may not have sufficient ammunition to mount much of an attack on the GOP primary winner. The only Democratic candidate with FEC pre-primary fundraising information available, lawyer and engineer Frank Vondersaar, reported only $1,049 in receipts, $1,000 of which was from his own pocket. 

Today also features the Republican primary for Alaska's at-large House seat. Rep. Don Young, the incumbent, has held the seat for 37 years. He will face communications executive Sheldon Fisher in the primary. Aside from name recognition and many years of experience on Capitol Hill, Young also has a monetary advantage--his $829,000 in receipts this cycle far exceeds Fisher's $160,000. However, Young also has some liabilities. Fisher has been attacking Young's actions in the House, including his use of earmarks and voting attendance record. Young is also coming off of a four-year FBI and Justice Department investigation into allegations that his campaign accepted illegal gifts and contributions from a company in the oil industry. In early August, the charges were dropped. The winner of this primary will face state Rep. Harry Crawford, a former iron worker who is uncontested for the Democratic nomination. 

In the race for governor, there are hard-fought primaries on both the Republican and Democratic sides. However, the Republican gubernatorial primary looks to be the more decisive race of the two; a July 20 Rasmussen poll that pitted Republican and Democratic candidates against each other in varying combinations consistently showed the GOP candidates well ahead. Election analysts also widely expect the governor's seat to stay in Republican hands. 

Among GOP candidates, Republican incumbent Sean Parnell pulled in $472,265 in receipts according to his latest report, putting him well ahead of fellow GOP candidate and former state Rep. Ralph Samuels, an executive at cruise company Holland America, who has taken in just over $21,000 in receipts this election cycle. However, Bill Walker, a project manager and general counsel for the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, has reported taking in over $500,000 in his campaign.