It was supposed to go smoothly for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Friday night when she took the stage to give a speech and introduce guest speaker U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, at the Alaska Republican Party Convention.
Murkowski has faced some tough crowds in the past, particularly in 2010 when she was running for re-election against Joe Miller in the midst of a tea party uprising. But all of that was supposedly behind her. Her win in an historic write-in campaign against Miller seemed to take the wind out of the tea party movement in Alaska. For various reasons, like Alaska’s weird economy and geography, the tea party wasn’t gaining as much ground as in other states.
That all seemed to change as Murkowski stood before her fellow Republicans at the Hilton in downtown Anchorage on Friday.
Dozens of Ron Paul supporters -- who would ultimately get their man, Russ Millette, the votes he needed to become the next chair of the Alaska Republican Party -- found common ground with Joe Miller and his supporters. And Murkowski paid the price as they heckled her on stage.
Paul and Miller fans have more in common than what might seem at first glance: Their distrust for the federal government, their focus on the national debt, and their pursuit of individual liberties. They have less in common when it comes to social and international issues, but that takes the back seat to the real goal of both factions: to take over the Republican Party, both locally and nationally.
At a meeting Friday night at Ron Paul’s Alaska campaign headquarter before Murkowski spoke, the two groups met and plans were made.
Miller himself later told Alaska Dispatch that he had nothing to do with what happened next. He wasn’t in the room, he said, although he heard about it later. Indeed, unlike the last big convention in 2008, Miller kept a low profile this past weekend.
However, it was clear at the convention Miller's and Paul's supporters had merged. Numerous Paul delegates interviewed Saturday night that they were also Miller supporters.
Murkowski was naturally surprised -- “confused,” she said in an interview on Saturday evening -- when she began to speak and was heckled. According to various accounts, it began with one woman yelling from the back of the room.
And then, in what must have seemed like something straight out of a William Golding novel, the woman yelled, “Republicans rise!” And lots of them -- the new face of Alaska’s GOP -- rose up.
Things calmed down, for a moment at least, when Barrasso -- the Wyoming senator who had flown all day to get to Alaska and caught the red-eye later that night to return home -- took the stage. But when he told the crowd he was supporting Mitt Romney’s presidential bid, many in the crowd booed and began to chant for Ron Paul.
Many other Paul supporters said they were surprised by what had transpired. Some who attended the meeting with Paul and Miller supporters before the dinner said they thought the plan was going to be to stand up and face the wall when Murkowski spoke.
Murkowski didn’t believe it was the Paul supporters who planned the protest.
“My impression of the Ron Paul organization is that they have great energy,” she said. “I didn’t understand them to be an organization that acts in a manner like that.”
Mostly, she was embarrassed for Barrasso.
Evan Cutler, a Paul organizer, gave a heart-felt apology on the convention room floor the following day, saying he neither condoned nor supported what happened, adding that it was “completely inappropriate.”
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