Palin vs. Murkowski Gets Ugly

Sarah Palin and Lisa Murkowski. Click image to expand.
Sarah Palin (left) and Lisa Murkowski

Sarah Palin’s reality show premieres Nov. 14. Kate Gosselin is set to guest star, but the scene we would really want to see is Palin out in the tundra with Lisa Murkowski, duking it out over the last sled dog. These women have a classic, bitter, transcending rivalry. This isn’t a cat fight: It’s entrenched warfare—the kind of fight we’re used to seeing between men.

Palin calls Murkowski “the entitlement candidate,” with reason, since Murkowski was appointed to the Senate eight years ago by her father, Frank Murkowski, when he was governor. And the Republican Party backed her candidacy this time around. Murkowski seems like she’ll stay entitled: She’s a Republican who doesn’t complain about all the federal money that props up Alaska’s economy and brought in millions of dollars for a geothermal turbine. She has tried to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to off-shore drilling, but she supports legal abortion. She is no Tea Partier.

The rivalry between Sarah Palin and Lisa Murkowski isn’t really about policy, though. It’s transparently personal, as this New York Times piece outlines, and even has a working-mother twist. When he became governor in 2002, Frank Murkowski got to pick his replacement for the Senate seat he’d held since 1980. He interviewed Palin for the job. She says he told her it would be hard to take care of her kids in the position, and then he picked his daughter instead. “He then handed what was called the most coveted government job in the state to his daughter, Lisa, a mom with two young kids,” Palin wrote in her book, Going Rogue. Palin has tried to unseat Lisa Murkowski twice, backing her opponent in the 2004 Republican primary and then this year Joe Miller.

But Murkowski refused to go away after she lost to Miller in the primary, launching a write-in campaign that went from quixotic to dogged. Miller proved to be the definition of a flawed candidate, with thuggish security guards and an admission that he improperly used government computers for politics at his old job and lied about it. Palin resorted to referring to Murkowski as an “out of touch liberal” at a Joe Miller rally. When he slipped in the polls, she doubled down in supporting him.

This means a real setback for Palin if Murkowski has truly won, which looks likely (although we won’t know for sure for a while, given Alaska’s process for counting write-in ballots). Palin didn’t come up empty last night among her “mama grizzlies”: Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle lost, but Kelly Ayotte, Nikki Haley, Susana Martinez, and Mary Fallin won, and we’ll see what her congressional tally ends up coming to. (Here is the Daily Beast’s Mama Grizzly Scorecard.) But if her own state didn’t heed Palin’s loud and clear calls to oust Murkowski, how far does her golden touch really extend? It’s Cain and Abel rewritten for the age of female power: a sisterhood unraveled.