Today's Alaska Republican primary for Senate is a twist on this season's traditional narrative: entrenched incumbent versus a Tea Party, Sarah Palin-backed insurgent -- except this incumbent is popular, and Palin's endorsement of the insurgent is partly rooted in a personal rift between her and said incumbent.
Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed to the Senate by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, in 2002 and now ranks fifth in the Senate Republican leadership, is facing a challenge from Joe Miller, a veteran and former judge who has never been elected to office. With her family's political background and her close relationship with longtime Alaska senator Ted Stevens, who died in a plane crash two weeks ago, Murkowski is just the kind of incumbent Tea Partiers across the country have been rallying to replace. While this tactic has worked in some cases -- Bob Bennett losing his seat in Utah, for example -- Alaska's electorate may be less susceptible to the anti-incumbent epidemic.
While no major, nationwide polling firms have conducted surveys on the race, an Anchorage firm polled 650 registered voters in July and found that 62 percent favored Murkowski while 30 percent favored Miller. Murkowski also holds a significant financial advantage, reporting $1.8 million in cash on hand in early August to Miller's $84,000.
Miller has received significant help from Tea Party Express, the group that transformed Sharron Angle into Nevada's Republican nominee for Senate. So far, Tea Party Express has spent over $550,000 on the Miller/Murkowski race, distributed across TV, radio and mail. Miller has also received high-profile endorsements from Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, who conducted a last-minute robocall for him. Palin's husband Todd also held a fundraiser for Miller in May.