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Palin backs novice in Alaska primary

 Sarah Palin speaks at  a rally in Atlanta for Republican gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, left, on Aug. 9.  (Associated Press)
Sarah Palin speaks at a rally in Atlanta for Republican gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, left, on Aug. 9. (Associated Press)

Attorney a long shot against incumbent

WASHINGTON – After a string of her candidates fell short in recent election primaries, Sarah Palin takes a trackside seat in her own state Tuesday as her choice for Alaska’s U.S. Senate post takes on the incumbent.

Palin’s pick, attorney and political unknown Joe Miller, seems to have gained little traction against GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, according to political experts in the state.

If Miller loses, it would be the latest setback for Palin’s effort this year to propel candidates nationwide through her endorsements. Candidates she backed in Washington and Wyoming lost in last week’s primaries, and a Palin favorite in Georgia was defeated the week before.

The Alaska primary is one of four across the country Tuesday. Voters in Florida, Arizona and Vermont also will cast ballots.

Palin has developed an unrivaled ability to draw political attention with a single Twitter message or Facebook post. But the mixed record of the dozens of candidates she has endorsed reflects her uneven influence across the country, as well as her willingness to back underdogs in primary elections.

Lisa Murkowski was appointed to the Senate in 2002 by her father, Frank Murkowski, who vacated the seat to become governor. Palin beat the elder Murkowski for governor in 2006.

However, many expect Lisa Murkowski to be favored in a state where voters seem to value seniority. The elder Murkowski was elected to the Senate four times, and the late Sen. Ted Stevens served 40 years. The state’s sole House member, Republican Rep. Don Young, is cruising to his 20th term.

“There are some that may not like her position on things – she’s seen by some as ‘Liberal Lisa’ – but they will swallow that,” said David Dittman, a former Stevens staffer and Republican consultant. “There’s not much that’s more important than (seniority) to Alaska.”

Palin has limited her personal involvement in the Alaska race, and Miller noted he had received backing from other prominent Republicans, including onetime presidential contender Mike Huckabee.

In Arizona, Palin has backed Sen. John McCain, who faces a challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth. Two years ago, Palin and McCain were running mates in the Republican presidential bid.

McCain, who has shed his label as a party maverick and hewed more closely to conservative orthodoxy to hold off Hayworth, is widely expected to survive Tuesday’s primary.