How did Murkowski come back against Tea Party favorite Joe Miller, who was backed by the national Republican Party and Sarah Palin? According to Yardley, by focusing on practical politics, unlike those alleged conservative utopians like Joe Miller and Sarah Palin, who is very easy to embarrass.
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska played many novel roles in her historic run as a write-in candidate. She was the insurgent incumbent, the maverick moderate, the outsider from the establishment, the underdog boasting about her seniority.
"This," she would tell supporters, freighting her voice with meaning, "is about Alaska!"
Joe Miller, the Republican nominee, promoted a conservative utopia in the Last Frontier, an autonomous Alaska that could drill and mine and log at will without fear of federal meddling. But he did not stop there. He framed the image within a broader crusade against the federal government: privatize Social Security, eliminate the Department of Education, slash taxes and spending, end earmarks.
"It is Alaska's destiny," Mr. Miller told supporters at a final rally before the election, "to lead this nation into the future."
But while Mr. Miller was arguing states' rights, Ms. Murkowski, who would be the first write-in candidate elected to the Senate since 1954, was talking about the state's reality.
For all the populist anger and legal wrangling in Alaska over federal oversight of its natural resources and protected species, from offshore oil to polar bears, many Alaskans long ago made a pragmatic peace with the arrangement, and they worry what will happen if things change significantly. A third of the state economy depends on federal spending. Many rural villages lack basic plumbing. Only a fraction of Alaska is reachable by road.
She will also embarrass Sarah Palin, whose endorsement of Mr. Miller pushed him to prominence. While Ms. Palin has often wrapped herself in Alaska's rugged independence, Ms. Murkowski engages with the state's more practical concerns, and her apparent success proves how effective that can be.