As a new U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski will enjoy the perks that come with high office and the heady experience of being a member of the nation's most exclusive club.
But the path ahead for the 45-year-old daughter of Gov. Frank Murkowski will not be one scattered with roses. She faces a lot of thorns and brambles along the way.
She has three immediate challenges:
1. She must figure a way to convince all Alaskans that she was chosen to succeed her father in the Senate because she was the best candidate available -- not because she happened to be a favorite daughter of a governor given the remarkable opportunity to appoint someone from his own family as his successor.
2. She must quickly -- and that means from the opening day of Congress -- establish herself as a willing, eager and valuable partner to Ted Stevens, Alaska's senior senator and one of the most powerful figures on Capitol Hill. Obviously, she will want to be her own person -- one not tied to the apron strings of her older and more veteran colleague. But the truth is, she's a rookie, and her ability to succeed, at least from the outset, will depend very much on how she works with Stevens.
3. She must, even before she takes her new seat in Washington, be running full-tilt for re-election. Run hard. Run fast. And start piling up a big campaign treasury that is going to require perhaps millions of dollars.
As her father said in the press conference Dec. 20 when he announced her selection for the Senate, one of the factors in his decision was the need to find a person who could win re-election two years from now and keep winning re-election thereafter, to build up the Senate seniority on which Alaska so much depends.
Gov. Murkowski gave up 22 years of seniority when he stepped down from the Senate to win election as governor. Lisa Murkowski will be in her mid-60s, assuming she is successful in future elections, before she attains the seniority and top committee assignments enjoyed by her father at the end of his career in Washington.
And the hurdles will not be easy to clear. Without question, she will face major challenges in the 2004 election -- both in the Republican primary, and if successful there, in the general election against a strong Democratic opponent.
Other Republicans who were passed over by the governor already appear ready to mount campaigns against her. Two possible opponents are Johne Binkley of Fairbanks and Jerry Hood of Anchorage, both of whom were considered front-runners -- and likely choices -- had the governor passed over his daughter.
Alaskans collectively hope, we're sure, that Lisa Murkowski will be up to the heavyweight job she is shouldering. But she'll have no easy ride.
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