WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski's stunning write-in victory was a political poke in the eye to Alaska's other favorite daughter, Sarah Palin.The former governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate backed scores of congressional and gubernatorial candidates this election, a sought-after endorsement that helped lift several Republicans to victory.
But she and her husband, Todd, invested far more time and money for Joe Miller, a tea party-backed challenger who shocked Murkowski, the incumbent, by capturing the GOP Senate nomination.
Murkowski's write-in win over Miller in Wednesday's count was a rebuke for Palin on her home turf by voters who know her best, the latest chapter in a bitter family feud that at times seemed more personal than political. It's also an embarrassment as Palin considers a White House bid.
Even in victory, Murkowski sought to downplay Palin's influence and painted her as an outsider in the state she once led.
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"I think it's important to recognize that here in Alaska, we are looking at Alaska," she told NBC's "Today Show" on Thursday. "So endorsements from outside may not have as much pull, as much stroke as they do in the Lower 48. This was Alaskans speaking out."
Just this week, Murkowski said she couldn't support Palin for president.
"She would not be my choice," Murkowski told CBS News. "I just do not think she has those leadership qualities, that intellectual curiosity that allows for building good and great policies. You know, she was my governor for two years, about two years there, and I don't think that she enjoyed governing. I don't think she liked to get down into the policy."
Palin had gone all-in on an effort to oust Murkowski. Todd Palin lent a hand, too, raising money for what was then a long-shot Miller campaign. Weeks later, his wife jumped into the race after initially donating money to Murkowski.
"I'm proud to join so many other longtime Alaskans in supporting Joe Miller in the upcoming Alaska Republican primary," Palin wrote on her Facebook page, her preferred form of communicating with millions of online supporters. "Joe is a true commonsense constitutional conservative, and we're thankful he and his family are willing to offer us a choice in Alaskan leadership."
The rivalry between the two women is bitter. Palin defeated Murkowski's father in a rough gubernatorial primary in 2006. The women have done little to conceal a personal animus, and the Senate contest was an ideal vehicle for their feud and for Palin's ambitions to be a kingmaker for conservatives.
Trying to downplay Palin's influence, Murkowski said the former governor was credited for Miller's primary win but also pointed to the California-based Tea Party Express, which sent millions to the state.
"She gave the endorsement, but she wasn't up in the state, going around and doing events for him," Murkowski said.
From Florida to Alaska, Palin backed candidates and helped scores to victory. More than three dozen of the Republicans she supported won seats in Congress. Palin helped South Carolina elect Nikki Haley its first female governor; Marco Rubio is heading to the U.S. Senate after she rallied tea party activists in Florida.
It built up good will should Palin seek the White House in 2012. Yet she came up short in a state she led for part of one term and in a contest she never shied from touting.
No matter, Republican strategists said. Yes, it's an embarrassment. No, it is not a roadblock.
"It's such a parochial situation," said Michael Baselice, a pollster for Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, whom Palin endorsed in the March primary. "There's a lot of good talk and fodder about endorsements; ultimately, it comes down to candidates with a message."
And voters in the states that hold early caucuses and primaries will have long forgotten the Alaska results.
"It really doesn't mean anything up here," said Rich Killion, a Republican pollster who is not working for a 2012 candidate. "New Hampshire voters aren't going to pay attention to intramural or interfamily affairs in someone else's backyard."
But don't expect Palin and Murkowski to forget their sparring.
Palin repeatedly used her online accounts to tweak Murkowski during the campaign but had no reaction.
"Though Joe decisively defeated the incumbent senator in the primary, and though she conceded the race to him, she reneged on her primary vow to not contest the will of the people," Palin wrote in an earlier post. "She is now running a write-in campaign bankrolled by Beltway special interests."
In another, she asked if Murkowski would try to shut down her Facebook page by going to court, something Murkowski never considered. But the statement allowed Palin to cast herself -- and Miller -- as victims.
"Lisa, you can sue me if you want (you won't be the first). But I will not be intimidated from speaking my mind. Your intimidation just empowered us liberty-loving Alaskans," Palin wrote.
"Are you really that out of touch?"