A 'strange tango of tension' between Palin and Murkowski

September 2, 2010 

Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Lisa Murkowski leave a meeting in Juneau in February 2009.

SEANNA O`SULLIVAN / AP FILE PHOTO

The New York Times put its piece on the so-called "feud" between Sarah Palin and the Murkowski family on the front page today (below the fold). Reporter William Yardley details "the strange tango of tension" between "two very different women" that began after Lisa Murkowski's father, former Sen. and former Gov. Frank Murkowski, appointed her to fill his vacated Senate seat.

From The Times:

"I don't understand it," said John Bitney, who was a top adviser to Palin during her run in 2006 and worked as campaign manager for Murkowski this year. "The back-and-forths have been all out in the open. I don't know what drives them."

Bitney has been closer than most to both women, and he said their relationship, as far as he could tell, starts and stops in public, even as the history between them runs deep and personal.

"I wanted to avoid a race between Sarah and Lisa," he said, referring to the Republican primary race that ended a week after the voting as the count dragged on. "It was going to raise issues that I didn't want to have to deal with. I had hoped this would not be a story."

But it's not just personal.

Their political differences are sharp. Palin opposes abortion and argues loudly against taxes and federal spending; Murkowski supports abortion rights and once raised the idea of reinstating a state income tax for Alaska when she was a state lawmaker. She has long made conservatives uncomfortable.

"She's definitely seen as way too left of the right, if you will," Stephen Haycox, a historian, said of Murkowski. "That's a part of the reason why they never had a relationship. Palin made a lot of her political reputation on anti-abortion issues."

Some observers saw a truce in the making when Palin made it clear she wouldn't challenge Murkowski for the Senate this year. But Murkowski had harsh words for Palin after her resignation from the governorship, and the Joe Miller candidacy gave Palin a chance to return the dig.

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