Updated: Sept. 27, 11:45 a.m.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski and her opponents are misrepresenting the Alaskan’s continued role as ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, according to GOP sources familiar with internal caucus deliberations.
Murkowski is under fire from the Senate Republican leadership and outspoken conservatives such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) for seeking re-election as a write-in candidate after being defeated by Fairbanks lawyer Joe Miller in the August GOP primary. Murkowski’s move prompted her to resign her post as Conference vice chairwoman, and the Senate Republican Conference had been expected to strip Alaska’s senior Senator of her ranking slot on Energy and Natural Resources — but it ultimately didn’t happen.
Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said Friday that the Conference “voted to affirm” the Senator’s seniority on the key legislative panel, while DeMint has contended in a fundraising appeal for Miller that the Conference moved to protect Murkowski.
GOP sources say they’re both wrong, and that Senate Republicans simply chose not to act on the matter either way during a closed-door meeting Wednesday.
“Both Murkowski’s people and DeMint’s are using this to suit their own purposes without regard for reality,” one of the sources said Sunday. “Essentially, the caucus chose not to put the ranking member debate and vote on the agenda. They didn’t vote to keep Murkowski. They decided not to get any deeper into this fiasco than we already were.”
The overwhelming sentiment among Republican Senators is that Miller is very likely to oust Murkowski on Nov. 2. Because Energy and Natural Resources is not scheduled to conduct any business before the general election, and with Congress preparing to adjourn at week’s end until after the elections, most Republicans felt it was unnecessary to risk dividing the Conference by holding a vote on Murkowski’s status.
Although some of Murkowski’s colleagues have expressed support, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), there was not a concerted effort by anyone to protect her ranking member slot as a means to aide her re-election bid, the source said. The only vote held in the meeting was to elect Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) as the new Conference vice chairman.
“There is sympathy for Murkowski, as there is for anyone who loses, but there absolutely was not a we can help her win’ attitude,” the source said.
The Murkowski campaign sent an e-mail to supporters Friday promoting her ranking status on Energy and Natural Resources. Sweeney wrote in the e-mail that a Miller victory Nov. 2 would be detrimental to Alaska, an energy-producing state that has a major stake in the committee’s agenda.
“Senator Murkowski’s Republican colleagues voted to affirm her seniority and Ranking Member status on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee,” Sweeney wrote. “An Alaskan Senator has always served on this committee because of its importance to our economy and state’s agenda. One would hope that Joe would understand how valuable it is to have an Alaskan in line to serve as the next Chairman of this Committee.”
DeMint suggested Thursday in a fundraiser e-mail for Miller that the Republican Conference had purposely backed Murkowski’s continued leadership of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee despite her move to run as a write-in candidate against Miller.
“Senate Republicans held a closed-door meeting yesterday afternoon to elect someone to replace Senator Murkowski as the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Or so we thought,” DeMint wrote. “Rather than taking away Murkowski’s leadership position on the committee, Senate Republicans decided to let her keep it. One senator after another stood up to argue in favor of protecting her place on the committee — a position she will no doubt use in her campaign against Joe Miller, the conservative Republican nominee.”
Miller is due to spend Wednesday through Friday in Washington for a series of meet-and-greets and fundraisers.
The most recent public poll of the three-way Alaska Senate race showed Miller in front with 42 percent, followed by Murkowski at 27 percent and Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D) at 25 percent. The Rasmussen Reports survey of 500 likely voters was conducted Sept. 19 and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.