Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska Bows Out to Tea Party-Backed Miller

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska concedes to Joe Miller in Alaska’s Aug. 24 primary. She joins six other congressional incumbents who lost in their party’s primaries.

Washington – In a bow to the seemingly inevitable, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski has conceded defeat to her “tea party”-backed rival, lawyer Joe Miller, in Alaska’s Aug. 24 primary.

The close race, which was not foreseen in polls, sat in suspension for a week as absentee, early, and contested ballots were counted. By Aug. 31, Senator Murkowski had made up some ground against her Sarah Palin-endorsed opponent, but, she concluded, not enough to keep fighting.

“Based on where we are right now, I don’t see a scenario where the primary will turn out in my favor,” Murkowski said Tuesday evening in her concession remarks.

Murkowski joins two other senators – Robert Bennett (R) of Utah and Arlen Specter (D) of Pennsylvania – and four House members in defeat during the 2010 primary season. Every race has its own internal dynamic, but widespread voter dissatisfaction with the Washington “establishment” has clearly been on display. Outsider, conservative tea-party backed candidates also beat insider GOP favorites in the Kentucky and Nevada Senate primaries. In Florida, conservative Marco Rubio effectively chased his moderate GOP Senate opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist (I), out of the party before the primary.

Murkowski’s defeat also challenges the notion that 2010 will be the Year of the Republican Woman. True, several high-profile GOP women are making competitive bids for major office, including Meg Whitman for California governor, Carly Fiorina for Senate in California, Nikki Haley for South Carolina governor, Sharron Angle for Senate in Nevada, Linda McMahon for Senate in Connecticut, and Kelly Ayotte for Senate in New Hampshire.

But the Republican Party continues to struggle mightily to match the Democrats in its female strength in elective office and in fielding candidates. Following Murkowski’s loss, there are now 18 women running for the Senate, 13 Democrats and five Republicans. In the House, of 154 female candidates, 98 are Democrats and 56 are Republican. In governorships, Republican women come closest to parity, running for six seats to the Democrats’ seven.

Currently, a record 17 women serve in the 100-seat Senate, 13 Democrats and four Republicans. In the House, of 435 total seats, 73 are held by women: 56 Democrats and 17 Republicans. In governors’ seats, six current occupants are women: three Democrats and three Republicans.

In the Murkowski defeat, it was a high-profile Republican woman – former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin – who played a contributing role. While Ms. Palin has worked to promote GOP women around the country, in her own backyard, other considerations trumped gender. First, Murkowski is a moderate, favoring abortion rights and following the old-school Alaska tradition of bringing home federal dollars. Palin’s “mama grizzlies” are conservative and oppose abortion rights. Perhaps more important, a Palin-Murkowski family feud added juice to the contest. In 2002, when newly elected Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed his daughter, Lisa, to finish his unexpired Senate term, that did not sit well with Palin, who reportedly felt snubbed. The nepotism issue also seemed to hurt Lisa Murkowski among Alaska voters in last week’s primary. It was Palin who defeated Frank Murkowski in the governor’s race in 2006.

Now, Alaskans face a Senate contest pitting the Yale Law School-educated Miller – a political newcomer — against the Democratic mayor of Sitka, Scott McAdams. Mr. Miller heads into November the heavy favorite.

“Now is the time for all Alaskans to come together and reach out with our core message of taking power from the federal government and bringing it back home to the people,” Miller said in a statement after Murkowski’s concession. “If we continue to allow the federal government to live beyond its means, we will all soon have to live below ours.”

Murkowski has yet to endorse Miller.

Democrats will seek to portray Miller as outside the mainstream; he favors phasing out Social Security.