Palin revs up push to unseat Murkowski, but only to a point

Jon Ward Contributor
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Sarah Palin wants you to believe she is not a professional politician. But you wouldn’t know that from the way she has inserted herself into the GOP Senate primary in her home state of Alaska.

Palin’s advocacy on behalf of Joe Miller, an insurgent Republican trying to unseat incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary, has been heating up in recent days. It’s something of a risk for Palin at a time when her success rate in endorsements has been falling.

But while Palin has pushed for Miller’s campaign harder in advance of Tuesday’s primary, putting some of her political capital on the line, she has stayed well away from endangering her overall brand. She has not campaigned in person for Miller, who has trailed in most polls by up to 30 points, even though she has campaigned for other candidates she has endorsed, though mostly in the south. Palin went earlier this month to Georgia to campaign for gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, who lost in the GOP primary.

Palin did record a robocall for Miller, an Army veteran with a Bronze Star, a Yale Law School degree and a master’s degree in economics from the University of Alaska. The Miller campaign began pushing the robocalls out on Monday to 60,000 likely voters, a campaign spokesman said.

Palin described Miller in the robocall as a “common sense conservative who understands that the Founders wrote the Constitution to limit the power of the federal government” and said he has “the backbone to confront Obama’s radical agenda.”

Palin aides said the reason she did a robocall instead of a personal campaign appearance was because her focus was on helping Miller raise money to get a TV ad on the air in the closing days. Miller raised only $300,000 to Murkowski’s $3.5 million, and had only $84,000 in his war chest on Aug. 4, at a time when Murkowski reported holding $1.8 million in reserve.

Rebecca Mansour, Palin’s online media coordinator, insisted that Palin was not calculating the political pros and cons of who to endorse and whether to appear in person or not.

“The media and Beltway politicos see Governor Palin’s endorsements in terms of ‘tests of influence’ and ‘power,’ but she sees them in terms of first principles,” Mansour said in an e-mail. “She likes to endorse good ‘under dog’ candidates who will shake things up, and Joe Miller has done that.”

In addition, Palin’s husband Todd campaigned for Miller in May. And on Friday, Todd Palin made an e-mail plea to supporters to donate to Miller’s campaign. Todd Palin’s pitch played heavily on the Palin family’s own past battles with the Murkowski family.

“Joe is up against the political establishment and special interests in Alaska, and I can tell you first hand that my own family has had to face such battles before,” Todd said.

Antipathy between Palin and Murkowski goes back some time. When Palin became governor in 2006, she did so by unseating the senator’s father, Frank Murkowski. When Palin resigned from her post as governor three years later, Lisa Murkowski said Palin had “abandoned” the state.
So it was little surprise when Palin herself endorsed Miller in June. But since then, Palin’s broadsides at Murkowski have been aggressive. Palin herself referred to Murkowski as a Democrat in one of her Facebook notes, one of the few ways she chooses to communicate publicly, rather than speaking to reporters from media outlets. And a blog that supports Palin and was started by a woman now working for Palin, Conservatives4Palin.com, called Murkowski a “Republican Party Hack.”

The double-barrell criticism of Murkowski by Palin, Miller and their supporters is that she was given the seat by her father, who appointed her to succeed him in 2002 when he was elected governor, and that since then she has been a mostly reliable status quo vote who goes along with Democrats on many major issues.

The Twitter feed maintained by Mansour, the founder of Conservatives4Palin.com, has revved up its criticisms of Murkowski as well.

“Happy [with] the status quo? Then be sure to keep voting for finger-to-the-wind career politicians & dynastic incumbents appointed via nepotism,” Mansour wrote Monday.

But there was much second-guessing on the web Monday of why Palin would not simply appear in person to campaign for Miller. The easiest answer is that while Palin may believe fiercely in promoting candidates who share her principles, and would like very much to see Murkowski lose her seat, she is not willing to spend too much of her influence in what most view as a lost cause.

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