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Palin Again Dispels D.C. Wisdom in Biggest Win Yet

Palin Again Dispels D.C. Wisdom in Biggest Win Yet

By Scott Conroy - August 25, 2010


Rumors of the Sarah Palin-endorsed candidate's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

When the former Alaska governor placed her home-state credibility squarely on the shoulders of uber-longshot Senate challenger Joe Miller, inside-the-beltway types were once again left scratching their heads and left to wonder, "What is Palin thinking?"

The Washington Post spoke for the established viewpoint on Monday when it published online under the headline "Wither Palin?" the observation that Miller "looks to be headed to a convincing loss." Meanwhile, Slate anticipated the consequences of what it saw as the almost inevitable "embarrassing defeat" for Palin, who endorsed Miller in June.

Political watchers appeared to have had good reason to write Miller off. Polls showed incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski ahead by more than 30 percent.

And after all, Palin and the Miller campaign were so eager to latch onto any news that might be perceived as remotely encouraging that they touted as reason for hope a Tea Party Express-commissioned poll, which still showed Miller trailing Murkowski by double digits.

With only nine of Alaska's 438 precincts still left to report as of late Wednesday morning in Alaska, Miller was leading Murkowski by a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent, or just under 2,000 votes.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, it will be more than a week before the final results trickle in, and 7,600 still uncounted absentee ballots had been returned as of Monday night.

Murkowski still has hope that the final precincts left to be counted will tilt heavily in her favor. The uncounted ballots are presumably located in the Alaska "bush," extremely isolated villages where voters benefit more than anywhere else in the country from federal spending projects that Miller had vowed to confront.

Still, even if Murkowski is able to eke out a victory, Miller's tremendously strong showing is yet another example of Sarah Palin's consistent ability to shock political insiders by showing off her still underestimated political instincts.

Even before the results poured in, Murkowski revealed her frustration with the impact that Palin had on the race in an interview with The Daily Beast's Shushannah Walshe, who spoke to the incumbent senator at a last-minute Murkowski rally in Wasilla.

Murkowski was miffed by Palin's anti-Murkowski language in a Facebook note she posted on Friday, particularly the former GOP vice presidential nominee's jab at her father Frank, whom Palin defeated in the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary.

"All of a sudden, it was like, wait a minute, if you are taking me on because you don't think I'm conservative enough that's one thing, but are you now suggesting that Frank Murkowski was not conservative enough and why are you looping him on this?" Murkowski told Walshe. "All of a sudden it became a little more personal."

Though Miller's strong showing was by far her crowning achievement of the night, both politically and personally, four other Palin-endorsed candidates won in other states.

Her successes in Tuesday's primaries should mute criticisms that Palin had lost her endorsement mojo, after a series of candidates she backed in recent primaries fell short.

It might be tempting to wonder whether Murkowski did not take Miller's campaign seriously enough, but the incumbent carried on a busy campaign schedule across the state, even before Palin's endorsement of Miller.

"We've been going hard," Murkowski spokesperson Steve Wackowski told RealClearPolitics on Sunday, adding that Murkowski enjoyed being out on the campaign trail so frequently.

Yes, the Murkowski campaign may have made a mistake by not utilizing its vastly superior war chest to go negative on Miller. And yes, there was a parental notification abortion ballot measure in Alaska that likely brought out additional Miller voters in a primary with relatively weak voter turnout.

But make no mistake: if Miller holds on to defeat Murkowski, who was widely considered to be Alaska's most popular politician in-state, it will be perceived as a resounding display of Palin's unique political sway, particularly in Republican primaries.

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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