The biggest political story of the year reached a climax Tuesday night, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska) unexpectedly conceded defeat to conservative primary challenger Joe Miller.
Although not all of the 15,000 absentee ballots had been counted and many ballots were to be “rechecked” for legitimacy, the early tally of the absentees cut Miller’s lead in the August 24 voting only from 1,668 to 1,630.
Murkowski could have waited until every ballot was counted and rechecked but, as it became clear the numbers were not going to change much, she chose the better part of valor and bowed out.
Democrats from Washington to Anchorage are clearly hoping that the defeat of an incumbent senator by an unabashed conservative will suddenly invigorate their candidate, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams.
But all signs point to a slam dunk for Miller. A just-completed survey conducted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee showed Miller with a handsome lead of 52% to 36% over McAdams (who raised less than $5,000 before the primary) among likely voters. Shortly after Murkowski’s bow-out, NRSC Chairman John Cornyn weighed in with a strong endorsement of Miller, a Desert Storm veteran and local magistrate.
Miller became the third insurgent to defeat a sitting senator for renomination this year (and the third to do so in Alaskan history). Pundits and pols are trying to assess just how he did it, especially when Murkowski spent $2.1 million compared to his six-figure budget.
Was it the endorsement of both Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee (both of whom Miller thanked on election night), the vigor of the pro-life movement in supporting a parental notification measure on the ballot the same day, or lingering resentment over the way Murkowski was appointed to the seat in ’02 by her father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski?
“When you have less than 100,000 people voting in a primary [the final figure was just over 90,000], word of mouth goes quite far,” Miller told HUMAN EVENTS in an interview a few weeks before the balloting.
Looking ahead, the 43-year-old Miller has shown no signs of rolling back his conservative manifesto in the fall. During an interview with CBS-TV’s Bob Schieffer last Sunday, the Alaskan reiterated his support for privatization of Social Security and eventually phasing out Medicare. Throughout the campaign, he was vigorous in his strong pro-life stand, criticism of world organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, and support for abolishing the Department of Education.
As much as cynics say this is outlandish and “over the top,” Miller’s agenda is not that much different from other conservative hopefuls this year—notably, Mike Lee of Utah, who unseated Sen. Robert Bennett (R.-Utah) and is considered a cinch to win his seat this fall. Ken Buck of Colorado also won the GOP Senate nod over a more “establishment” candidate, while Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania both forced more moderate nomination foes out of the primary. All three now hold leads in the polls for the fall contest.
Whether the Senate stays in Democratic hands or goes Republican, it seems a safe bet to say that a GOP conference with Senators Lee, Miller, Buck, Rubio and Toomey will be a somewhat different place.