Palin-backed Candidate Poised for Win in Alaska

On a night when anti-establishment candidates were winning key Republican primaries Tuesday, perhaps the biggest political story has yet to be written: as of 8:45 a.m (EDT), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska) was trailing conservative insurgent Joe Miller—endorsed by Sarah Palin—by a margin of 51% to 49% with nine precincts left to report.

With 71% of the vote counted and quite a few votes cast by absentee ballot, it might be days before it is known whether the Alaskan became the third incumbent senator to lose renomination this year.

Other established political names were rocked by newcomers in major GOP races last night.

Former healthcare executive Rick Scott scored a major upset to win the nomination for governor of Florida over state Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, long the favorite to win the Republican nod for attorney general, was defeated by Tampa prosecutor Pam Bondi (who had the backing of Sarah Palin and the Susan B. Anthony List).

In three Arizona U.S. House districts, conservative Republicans who had never been involved in politics much before won contested primaries over more-established political figures. Among them was lawyer Ben Quayle, son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, who defeated seven opponents in Arizona’s open 3rd District.

If there was any familiar “product” that survived the evening, it was John McCain. The Arizona senator (who turns 74 this Sunday) romped to renomination with more than 60% of the vote. But even McCain was part of the pattern: He overcame a once formidable foe from the right by himself moving to the right on issues such as illegal immigration that have been proving key to primary voters and underscoring his own conservative credentials on spending issues.

A look, then, at some of the key races:

Will It Be Sarah’s Guy Over Lisa?

In making headlines by endorsing district magistrate Joe Miller against incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sarah Palin fueled the old feud between herself and the senator’s family. It began in ’02 when Lisa’s father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, interviewed then-Wasilla Mayor Palin for a vacancy in the Senate and instead chose his daughter. Four years later, Palin unseated Frank become governor.

But last night, incredibly, it was “advantage Team Sarah,” as the conservative Miller was narrowly leading the moderate-conservative senator (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 70%) with about 71% of the vote in. Alaska sources estimate that it would take days to finalize the results, but that either Republican would be a cinch to win in the fall.

Miller, a Desert Storm veteran and Yale Law School graduate, energized conservatives with his criticism of Murkowski’s votes for greater funding of the International Monetary Fund and for taking a pro-abortion stand.

With less than 100,000 GOPers participating in the primary, a conservative message, lingering resentment of the nepotism charge surrounding her arrival in the Senate, and Miller’s backing from national talk show hosts such as Mark Levin paid off.

Florida: How Did McCollum Lose?

Folks at the Republican Governors Association are reeling over the primary for governor last night in Florida. While state Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum had been pressed in the primary, his backing from virtually every elected Republican and most party officials was considered enough to overcome wealthy former healthcare executive Rick Scott.

It wasn’t. In a nail-biter of a race, Scott—who spent more than $50 million of his own wealth on his first-ever race—emerged the narrow winner. Scott’s lucrative campaign slammed McCollum, a former 20-year congressman and two-time Senate hopeful, as a career politician with no new ideas. Even the RGA, while not taking sides with McCollum, issued a pre-primary statement condemning Scott’s campaign (although it did endorse him last night).

The Democratic nominee is Chief Financial Officer Alex Sisk, and Bud Chiles, son of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, is running without party affiliation, setting up a three way race with Scott in the fall.

Similar results were found in the primary for attorney general. Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp was the anticipated winner in the three-candidate GOP primary because of name recognition and endorsements. But he lost to Tampa prosecutor Pam Bondi, who was backed by Sarah Palin and the Susan B. Anthony List.

As expected, Rep. Kendrick Meek overcame a 5-to-1 spending advantage from millionaire primary opponent Jeff Greene and won the Democratic primary for governor with ease. Now national press attention is sure to focus on the all-star contest between Meek, GOP nominee and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, and Gov. Charles Crist, who is running as an independent.

With the endorsements of both Bill Clinton and President Obama, Meek took the Democratic Senate nod with relative ease. Greene made an early splash with heavy spending on TV and radio but appeared to suffer major wounds from newspaper stories about his lavish lifestyle and partying aboard his 145-foot yacht.

McCain’s Moves Right Saved Him

Few pundits and pols doubted that John McCain’s obvious moves to the right were responsible not only to his overcoming the once formidable primary challenge by en conservative former six-term Rep. J.D. Hayworth, but his eventually winning with 62% of the vote.

Long distrusted by conservatives for his ’06 support of a comprehensive immigration package they considered cover for amnesty, McCain this year stumped in favor of his state’s tough new immigration law and called for completing the fence along the border with Mexico. Morever, he retreated from his support of cap-and-trade legislation, had little to say when the Supreme Court struck down much of his McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill in the Citizens United case.

The nominations of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer for a full term and Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard as her opponent set the stage for a sure-to-be-nationally watched debate on their state’s illegal immigration law. Brewer signed AB 1070 into law, while Goddard is against it.

The real surprises of the night in Arizona were in U.S. House primaries, where political newcomers upset established figures in three districts. With GOP Rep. John Shadegg retiring in the 2nd District (suburban Phoenix), lawyer Ben Quayle (son of former Vice President Dan Quayle) raised $1.3 million to defeat seven opponents.

In the 1st District, dentist Paul Gosar overcame six foes to win nomination against Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and in the 8th District, former U.S. Marine and construction site manager Jesse Keller overcame the local party establishment to win the nod against Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Quayle, Gosar, and Keller all ran as strong conservatives, with Quayle calling Barack Obama “the worst president in history.”