Gov. Frank Murkowski's appointment of his daughter to his vacated seat in the U.S. Senate has riled many. But complaining about how Lisa Murkowski came to the Senate is a separate issue from a discussion of how the new senator will shape herself and how her father's decision to choose her will affect Republican politics in 2004.
The governor could have appointed to the Senate seat someone more conservative, someone in his mold and in the mold of President Bush, someone whose staunch conservative positions on some fiscal and social matters might help the administration in the slim GOP environment of the U.S. Senate. There were any number of such respectable candidates on the governor's long list of potential successors.
Instead, he chose someone more moderate, someone who as a state lawmaker said she would support increased corporate and gasoline taxes, who would allow abortion in a greater number of circumstances and who believes citizens should have access to basic health needs through state-funded care, if necessary.
The governor's choice of his daughter, because she is a moderate and because she is his daughter, makes it virtually certain the field for the August 2004 Republican primary election will be crowded.
Sen. Murkowski should expect challenges from a conservative ready to paint the new senator as out of touch with core GOP values -- in fact, she barely escaped a conservative challenge this year for her Anchorage House seat -- and from at least one moderate who was on the governor's list of potential replacements. There could be more, too, since some on that list believe the governor's interview process was a sham.
If Murkowski survives the primary election without moving her polices to the right, Alaskans could see a matchup of perceived moderates in November 2004. Her rumored Democratic opponent will be former Gov. Tony Knowles, described by a member of his administration as essentially a moderate Republican. Knowles could provide a major challenge.
If she does move to the right to mollify conservatives, opponents could seize upon her as a double-opportunist: One who shifted position for political gain and one who acquired her seat through no more than having a good family connection.
So the state's newest senator, who almost immediately will embark on her first statewide campaign, will be gambling when she chooses her political path. Will she abandon an earned reputation as a thoughtful moderate and realist?
Gambling runs in the Murkowski family, it seems.
After all, her father gambled with the 22-year Republican hold on the Senate seat when he chose her.
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