Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Is A Catfight Brewing Between Sarah Palin And Lisa Murkowski For Alaska's Other U.S. Senate Seat In 2010?

All of a sudden, the Alaska political scene is buzzing about a possible Republican primary race between Governor Sarah Palin and incumbent U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski in 2010. On December 2nd, 2008, KTUU Channel 2 conducted an "unscientific" poll asking respondents how they would vote in a hypothetical primary contest between the two. Murkowski was the choice of 58 percent, while 42 percent chose Palin.

What caused this sudden scuttlebutt? Apparently, Senator Murkowski herself triggered the speculation, according to Politico.com. Murkowski somehow got the idea that Governor Palin was thnking about challenging her in 2010, and the good Senator decided to tell Palin that if she wants to make another run at the White House in 2012, don't go through her Senate seat.

But Murkowski says Palin is the one who should be nervous about the outcome. “I can guarantee it would be a very tough election,” Murkowski said in an interview.

Palin is also up for reelection as Governor in 2010. She could run for a second term as governor, but the Senate holds some obvious attractions: a national platform, and with it the chance to beef up a thin résumé and rebuild damaged credibility on foreign policy and other issues.

But Senator Murkowski says a run against her would be fraught with risk. If Palin lost, her stock would drop just ahead of a potential 2012 presidential run. And if she won, she’d be a backbencher in a chamber that is dominated by seniority — and would have to begin her presidential campaign as soon as she took office.

In response, the Palin camp has firmly spiked any notions of their principal running for the U.S. Senate. Palin’s communications coordinator, Kate Morgan, said, “The governor has never stated her intention or desire to run for that office.” Additional KTUU feature story published; news video embedded below:

Relations between the two are correct, but a bit frosty. Palin won the governor’s race in 2006 by defeating Frank Murkowski, the senator’s father. On the presidential campaign trail this year, Palin crowed about upending the “old boys network” in Alaska, and suggested that Frank was one of those "old boys". When queried for reaction this summer, Lisa Murkowski bristled and cut an interview short.

Several Alaska pollsters believe Murkowski could cruise to a second full term in 2010 unless she loses in the Republican primary. The most credible Democratic challenger, Ethan Berkowitz, is considered likely to run against Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) for the state’s lone House seat once again in 2010.

With the impending departure of Ted Stevens, Senator Murkowski points to her rising seniority in the Senate and her ascension to the top Republican spot on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee as an important advantage. She doesn't believe Alaskans would want to throw away her budding seniority. And she's also concerned that Palin might be tempted to use the Senate seat merely as a two-year stepping stone to a 2012 Presidential run. But in the final analysis, Murkowski said she had not spoken with Palin about whether she will run and said the talk of her running may be “more media-generated than what actually might be the thought process in Juneau right now.”

Analysis: Both Murkowski and Palin are quite popular amongst Republicans, with approval ratings amongst Repubs in the 80s. A primary fight between the two could become a world-class catfight. The Washington Independent and Women On The Web speculate the race would be close. Senate Guru thinks such a race is a possibility, and dredges up the aborted Murkowski sweetheart deal on a Kenai River home, but that's an issue resolved long ago and is now considered dead.

But a Palin run for the Senate would neither be in her interest nor Alaska's interest. Too many people would wonder whether Palin would merely use the Senate seat as a stepping stone. In contrast, Lisa Murkowski, despite not being as conservative and a bit weaker on immigration issues, has no higher political aspirations at this time. I would be reluctant to trade in Murkowski's seniority on a rookie even though the rookie might fit my personal politics better.

If Sarah Palin absolutely, positively must run for Congress in 2010, she would better direct her efforts towards Don Young's seat. It is possible that Don Young could choose to retire; if Palin runs to replace him, she'll beat any Democrat in the state.

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