Murkowski Concedes, and the Tea Party Advances

Late last night, after a tense, all-day count of absentee ballots, Sen. Lisa Murkowski conceded her Republican primary race against Joe Miller. Though a few thousand votes are left to be counted on Friday, Miller's lead of 1,630 was enough to convince Murkowski not to wait it out.

According to the New York Times, Murkowski told supporters at her rally last night, "I'm so proud of the campaign that we conducted. ... We stayed on the high road. We talked about how we move the state of Alaska forward." 

This comment is a clear jab at Miller, who benefited from ads ruthlessly attacking Murkowski, claiming that she supported the stimulus (she in fact voted against it) and did not want to repeal health care reform (she has said she does). Miller also went after Murkowski's mixed record on abortion, targeting anti-abortion-rights voters who were drawn to the polls by a parental notification initiative.

These attacks were largely funded by Tea Party Express, a Sarah-Palin-allied group responsible for Sharron Angle's success in the Republican Senate primary in Nevada. Miller's victory makes him the fifth Tea Party candidate to win a GOP Senate primary, following Angle, Rand Paul in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Mike Lee in Utah. Murkowski is now the seventh incumbent to lose a primary this election season.

Miller's Tea Party Express backing was vital to his success, largely because his coffers paled in comparisons to Murkowski's. As of August 4, Murkowski had raised nearly $3 million, while Miller had a mere $283,000. Why did this funding discrepancy alone not hand Murkowski the race?

Matt Moon, an Alaska Republican strategist, thinks that her campaign doomed itself from the beginning. From his post at TheNextRight:

The campaign decided to run Murkowski on her laurels instead of comparing her record and experience vs. Miller's record and his experience. The campaign decided not to run what I would call "compare/contrast" ads that give your base of supporters a reason to make sure you win and your opponent loses.

What's worse, Moon continues, is that Murkowski had the perfect combative ad ready to go -- but she chose to post it on YouTube rather than running it on TV. The video below shows Murkowski speaking to an audience in August, 2009 about her opposition to the health care reform law. At the end, the video shows Miller in that audience, undermining his claim that she does not want to repeal the law. If Murkowski had flooded the airwaves with messages like this, Moon argues, she'd have had a re-election in the bag.

     

Miller's sudden success caused problems for the Republican Party's Senate campaign arm, which has been criticized by Miller and Tea Party Express for sending a lawyer to Alaska and allegedly calling up absentee voters to ask how they voted.

With Miller ahead by over 1,600 votes before absentee ballots were counted yesterday, Murkowksi's only viable path appeared to be getting on the Libertarian ballot. But the Alaska Libertarian Party announced yesterday that it would not dump its candidate, and Murkowski's primary concession essentially ends her campaign.

The general-election race will be between Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams, the mayor of Sitka. Given the national Tea Party money Miller has enjoyed, it seems Alaska may join a handful of states in electing a Tea Partier to the Senate in 2010.
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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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