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Palin Takes on Two Old Foes in Alaska Primary

Palin Takes on Two Old Foes in Alaska Primary

By Scott Conroy - August 23, 2010


In Going Rogue, Sarah Palin unleashed some of her most descriptive personal jabs against her former close aide turned bitter enemy John Bitney, whom she described as "a Blackberry games addict who couldn't seem to keep his lunch off his tie." Palin blamed Bitney for inspiring a still infamous comment that she made about state legislators during her early days in office and added, "the fact that his shirt was buttoned one button off and his shirt tail was poking through his open fly didn't exactly inspire confidence."

Bitney, now the campaign manager for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a fellow Palin antagonist, will have the chance to refute Palin's portrayal of him as an incompetent slacker on Tuesday when Murkowski faces off against Palin-backed challenger Joe Miller in Alaska's Republican Senate primary.

The longstanding grudge match pitting Palin against Murkowski and Bitney blew up again on Friday afternoon, when Palin took to her Facebook page to make a fundraising push on behalf of Miller, whom she said needed to raise "about $30,000" for a last-minute media push.

Palin was remarkably blunt in disparaging Murkowski, especially considering that just last year, a Palin spokesperson claimed that Palin thought Murkowski was "doing a great job and that's why she's looking forward to hosting a fundraiser for her."

In her Facebook post on Friday, Palin made it clear that those words were merely public niceties.

"Constitutional Conservatives and Independent voters in Alaska have discovered what the far-left Huffington Post concluded and boasted - that Lisa Murkowski is a ‘center-right Democrat,'" Palin wrote. "...Let's raise $1,000 for each of the 30 years this senate seat has been locked in by the Murkowski family."

The bad feelings between Palin and the Murkowski family are indeed acute. When Murkowski's father Frank appointed a successor to his Senate seat in 2002 upon being elected governor, he interviewed Palin for the job but passed her over for his daughter in a move that was widely decried as rank nepotism.

Then in 2006, Palin defeated Frank Murkowski in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Three years later, Lisa Murkowski issued a biting press release upon Palin's resignation from the governorship, saying she was "deeply disappointed that the Governor has decided to abandon the State and her constituents before her term has concluded."

Despite the geographic convenience, the former Alaska governor has not made any public appearances on Miller's behalf since endorsing him in June.

Still, Palin's emphatic Facebook post on behalf of Miller put her political clout in her home state squarely on the line.

Though July polling showed Murkowski with a more than comfortable lead of over 30 percent, Palin and the Miller camp are pointing to a more recent poll commissioned by the Tea Party Express, which shows Miller trailing Murkowski by the far smaller, yet still-substantial, margin of 11 percent.

The Murkowski campaign said that its internal numbers continue to show Murkowski with a sizable advantage.

The Alaska primary is conducted by a semi-open ballot, which means that independents who aren't registered as Republicans will be allowed to vote.

The Anchorage Daily News reported before Palin's recent fundraising plea that Murkowski had raised at least $3.5 million this cycle, while Miller took in less than $300,000, including $5,000 from Palin's PAC.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has recorded a radio advertisement on behalf of Miller, who will get some national media attention on Monday with scheduled appearances on Fox News and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham's radio show.

Now that Palin has invested herself so publicly on Miller's behalf, the question remains: Why hasn't she at the very least made an in-town appearance for Miller, who is depending on strong turnout in the heavily conservative Mat-Su Valley where Palin lives?

Miller campaign spokesperson Randy DeSoto said that Palin "may do one other thing for us within the next day or so" before Tuesday. DeSoto declined to elaborate but was perhaps referring to a robocall that Palin has recorded for Miller, which was featured late Sunday night on the pro-Palin web site Conservatives4Palin.com.

"I don't think she'll be doing a campaign stop-she normally doesn't do that with all the candidate's she's endorsed," DeSoto said, before adding, "I mean, it could happen but there's nothing on her schedule at this point."

Murkowski was taking Miller's challenge seriously even before Palin's endorsement, but the former governor's shadow now looms over every aspect of the campaign just a day before the polls open.

Asked for his reaction to Palin's Facebook takedown of his candidate, Murkowski spokesperson Steve Wackowski paused for a moment before answering.

"I'm going to go back to something my mother told me on that," Wackowski said. "If you don't have anything nice to say, you don't say it at all."

Just how eager is the Murkowski campaign to rack up a big victory against the Palin-endorsed candidate? Before the senator is scheduled to watch election results come in from Anchorage on Tuesday, Bitney and his staff found a way to squeeze one last rally into her Election Day schedule.

Where will it take place?

Wasilla, of course.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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