Image: Lisa Murkowski
J. Scott Applewhite  /  AP file
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is Alaska's senior senator, serves on two key committees and is a member of the GOP's leadership team - the only woman among six men.
updated 3/15/2009 11:41:29 AM ET 2009-03-15T15:41:29

Not even a skiing accident could slow Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's political ascent.

She returned to Capitol Hill the day after she fell and tumbled wildly down Alaska's Mount Alyeska. Despite tearing two ligaments and cartilage in her left knee, the 51-year-old Republican made it back to the Senate, with the help of a wheelchair and crutches, in time to vote for a $410 billion spending package that included nearly $200 million for her state.

Only in her first full term, Murkowski is Alaska's senior senator and the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a crucial role for her oil-producing state. She serves on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and is the only woman among eight men on the Senate GOP's leadership team.

"I can't think of anybody in recent years in the Senate who has gone further faster than Lisa Murkowski," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "Alaska has a new powerhouse already."

Dogged by rivalry with Palin
Murkowski is seeking to fill the role once played by Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican senator ever and a legendary figure in Alaska, where he wielded political influence for than half a century. Stevens, who served 40 years in the Senate, was known for steering billions of dollars in federal money to his home state, drawing praise from constituents and consternation from watchdog groups and reformers.

Stevens was convicted in October of lying on Senate disclosure documents about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations. He was defeated in November.

Even with her climb to power, Murkowski is dogged by an unspoken rivalry with Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP's vice presidential nominee in 2008 who defeated Murkowski's father in a hard-fought primary in 2006.

Murkowski is up for re-election in 2010, and pundits from Washington to Alaska have focused on a possible primary challenge by Palin, a possible presidential contender in 2012. Palin, whose term as governor ends next year, has not announced her plans.

The two women joined in an opinion column in December under the headline, "We're not rivals; we're in partnership for Alaska," but reports of a rivalry persist.

Murkowski dismisses a potential matchup against Palin as media hype and adds that Alaska is big enough for both of them. Voters "like me and they like the job I'm doing. And they like the governor and the job she is doing. I don't think they want to see us battling," she said.

No hard feelings
Despite Frank Murkowski's loss to Palin in 2006, Sen. Murkowski denies any family rivalry with the governor. One of the main issues used against the elder Murkowski was his 2002 appointment of his daughter to replace him in the Senate after he was elected governor.

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"In terms of hard feelings, there are none," said Lisa Murkowski, who campaigned for GOP presidential nominee John McCain and Palin last year.

Added a Palin spokesman, Bill McAllister: "We continue to point out that there's nothing that the governor has said or done to justify this speculation."

Senate leader McConnell said he is not aware of Palin's plans, but said, "I do know that we'll be supporting Lisa 100 percent" in her re-election bid.

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, who defeated Stevens last fall and is 46, said he and Murkowski represent a new generation of leadership in Alaska.

While she supports increased oil and gas drilling, Murkowski is more moderate than many other GOP senators, Begich said. Murkowski supported a fair-pay act for women and an expansion of children's health insurance, both Democratic priorities.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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