Miller's showing in Senate primary shows Sarah Palin still holds sway in Alaska

Voters headed to the polls Tuesday in five states in the last major primaries of the summer.
By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2010

WASILLA, ALASKA -- On a recent afternoon here, Karen Adams wheeled a shopping cart packed with meat, pineapples and cereal boxes around a supermarket as she talked about Sarah Palin's presence in Alaska.

"I used to see her all the time," said Adams, 34, who proudly voted for Palin as mayor and then governor and still regularly bumps into Palin's parents at the post office. "I don't see her these days."

Palin may have withdrawn from official life in Alaska, but the surprisingly strong showing in Tuesday's GOP Senate primary by Joe Miller, the long-shot candidate she backed over Lisa Murkowski, made it clear to the entire country that she still exercises great influence in her home state.

This matters for Palin's aspirations outside Alaska, too.

Alaska is central to her political imagery, folksy charm and outsider credentials. In her introductory speech to national politics during the Republican National Convention, she referred to herself as a "gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska." The bus she rode across the country on her book tour featured Palin beaming in front of Alaska's snowcapped mountains and spruce-spotted hills. More recently, she coined the term "mama grizzlies" to describe women who want to protect the nation from "fundamental transformation" -- because there are grizzly bears in Alaska. Her upcoming TV show on TLC is called "Sarah Palin's Alaska."

By endorsing Miller on Facebook, boosting him on Twitter and making robo-calls for him against the heavily favored establishment candidate, Palin risked sacrificing the founding pillar of her political creation myth. Instead, her wager paid off big. As of Thursday, Miller led Murkowski by roughly 1,600 votes. Murkowski has vowed that it is too early to concede and is hoping that the nearly 10,000 absentee ballots her campaign says have been returned will push her ahead of Miller.

A source in the Murkowski campaign who spoke on the condition of anonymity Thursday said that while the senator was confident she would prevail after the absentee ballots had been counted, she was also aware of two available options should she not make up the difference. She could run as a write-in candidate, the source said, or she could take the place of the Libertarian Party candidate, Fredrick "David" Haase.

Haase, reached by telephone Thursday, said that no one from Murkowski's camp had so far reached out to him and that he was confident the senator, whom he preferred over Miller, would win. If she didn't, though, he'd gladly step aside, he said, as long as she joined his crusade to overhaul Social Security and revamp the Federal Reserve.

"If she came out and told the people of Alaska that was her mission," Haase said, "I'd be a fool not to."

Whether Miller or Murkowski ultimately prevails is, for Palin's stature in Alaska, now beside the point. The former governor, whose presidential or other political aspirations are undetermined, has demonstrated the sturdiness of her base.

"Within conservative politics in Alaska, she is still a very formidable force," Miller said in a recent interview. "She's certainly a net positive to any candidate running for office."

This was not the consensus view leading up to the election.

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