Murkowski’s Alaska Senate Scramble Presents 2012 Test for Palin

Palin has a chance to remove all doubt that she is a serious political player.

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Events in Alaska pose an interesting challenge for Sarah Palin. Her support of attorney Joe Miller is cited, rightly or wrongly, as the key factor in his upending of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the recent GOP Senate primary.

[See who supports Murkowski.]

Unfortunately for the GOP, Murkowski is refusing, as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, to “go gentle into this good night.”

As Politico has reported, Murkowski has been in talks with Libertarian Party Senate candidate David Haase about taking his place on the ballot. Such a switch, which many Alaska Libertarians have already denounced, would set up a tight three-way race between Miller, Murkowski, and Democrat Scott McAdams. The latest poll, conducted among 1,306 Alaska residents likely to vote in November by Public Policy Polling, showed Miller at 38 percent, Murkowski at 34 percent (on the Libertarian line), and McAdams at 22 percent.

[Read more about the 2010 elections.]

Now it is highly likely that no deal will ever be consummated between Murkowski and Haase. For his part, Haase is openly entertaining the idea of ceding his nomination to her in order to draw attention to his candidacy. Murkowski, on the other hand, is likely bitter about her defeat--in some sense justifiably so—and wants to stay in the Senate. It also doesn’t hurt that re-entering the race would be a sort of rhetorical slap in the face to Palin, who won the Alaska governorship by defeating her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, in the 2006 GOP primary.

The Haase/Murkowski public Hamlet act has drawn the attention of national Republicans, some of whom say privately that they are a little concerned about what is going on in Alaska and the fact that it might interfere with their hopes to eke out a majority in the upcoming election.

Having delivered the GOP nomination to Miller, some of these same Republicans say it is incumbent on Palin to deliver him a victory in the general election as well, especially if she is serious about continuing to be seen as a national party leader and potential 2012 presidential candidate.

Two suggestions that are floating around. One is that she utilize her national network of supporters to help Miller raise enough money for the general election that it will give Murkowski serious second thoughts about what she will have to do to keep the race competitive. The second is that Palin utilize her network of supporters in her home state to contact Murkowski and make it clear that they will not support her, even if they had backed her before, and that she needs to end her talks with Haase and bow out gracefully.

By demonstrating she can do either or both of these things successfully in her home state, Palin can remove all doubt that she is a serious political player--which may help chase some of the smaller fish out of the 2012 race for the White House, even before it starts.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on Sarah Palin.
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  • See a slide show of 10 reasons Palin would make a good president.