For all his success in helping elect ultraconservatives to the Senate, Sen. Jim DeMint now must face the difficult consequences of one spectacular, all but certain failure.
Even as DeMint says he would welcome fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski back to the Senate, the South Carolinian is still urging conservative activists around the country to donate money to replace the Alaskan incumbent with tea party favorite Joe Miller.
DeMint, who raised $5.6 million for ultraconservative GOP candidates this year, has attached a personal appeal letter to a CONTRIBUTE banner and a photo of Miller at the top of http://www.senateconservatives.com , the Web site of his Senate Conservatives Fund.
“Joe Miller can win this race, but he’s up against a well-financed legal team that is working for Lisa Murkowski,” DeMint writes. “They will be fighting to bend the law in Alaska, which requires write-in ballots to accurately state the candidate’s name.”
Before a federal judge Friday temporarily froze the final outcome, Murkowski appeared to have won a historic write-in campaign against Miller in the Nov. 2 general election, overcoming DeMint’s contribution of more than $627,000 to Miller.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline suspended Murkowski’s certification as winner provided that Miller demands a recount in state court by Monday, a step he was prepared to take despite the long odds of overtaking Murkowski’s lead of about 2,000 votes.
Miller won Alaska’s Aug. 25 Senate Republican primary, prompting Murkowski to launch her write-in effort – and setting off a bitter, drawn-out exchange of actions and words with DeMint that may not end any time soon.
Murkowski has responded coolly to DeMint’s recent peace signals.
“He has suggested that he’s got some making up to do,” Murkowski told CNN on Nov. 12. “I’ll let him make the first move.”
Beyond its political intrigue, the DeMint-Murkowski tussle reveals the deeper ideological struggle within the Republican Party between hard-liners unwilling to bend their principles and moderates who say governing requires compromise.
DeMint’s badly damaged relationship with Murkowski also shows the tightrope he’s treading as he tries to remake the Senate in his ultraconservative image from inside the august chamber while backing anti-establishment rabble-rousers on the outside.