WASHINGTON — After losing her Republican primary, winning an unprecedented write-in campaign and then surviving weeks of legal challenges, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska on Wednesday was sworn in to her second full term in the U.S. Senate.
Murkowski, who was certified by the state of Alaska only last week when opponent Joe Miller’s drawn-out legal challenges lost steam, was escorted to her swearing-in ceremony by her father, Frank Murkowski.
The elder Murkowski, a former U.S. senator from Alaska as well as a former Alaska governor, appointed his daughter to the U.S. Senate seat in 2002 after he resigned it to become governor. He later lost in a primary himself to Sarah Palin, who in a twist in Alaska’s political history helped boost Miller’s campaign last fall with her endorsement.
Arm in arm Wednesday afternoon, Murkowski and her father walked to the front of the Senate chamber to applause. As soon as she took the oath of office, her father gave her a kiss on the cheek.
The applause was shared with one of Murkowski’s fellow women in the Senate: Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who walked forward to be sworn in at the same time. Mikulski, re-elected to her sixth term in November, was honored for her status as the longest-serving female senator in history.
“As a woman who has made a little bit of history in my own state, it was really nice to hear the tributes to Sen. Mikulski and what she has done,” Murkowski said. “She is a trailblazer in every sense of the word.”
Murkowski, whose primary defeat at the hands of her tea party-backed opponent was one of the biggest upsets of the 2010 election season, clawed her way back into the Senate with an aggressive write-in campaign, fueled in large part by Alaska Native corporations, that took advantage of new campaign finance rules to aid her bid.
She was welcomed back into the arms of the Senate Wednesday with hugs, hearty back-thumps and a round of handshakes. It was a far cry from her reception after her primary loss, when she was forced to step down from her Republican leadership post after deciding to mount the write-in campaign. She also narrowly fended off a bid by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, one of Miller’s GOP backers, to strip her of her post as the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“Of course, they all said, ‘We knew you could do it,’ “ Murkowski joked, in a reference to the chummy reception from some once-frosty Republicans. “But everyone was really, really warm.”
She joins a Senate that remains in Democratic hands, but with less of a majority than it did when the Obama administration began. Democrats hold 53 seats in the Senate, enough to block legislation from the Republican-led House, but not enough for a 60-vote, filibuster-proof margin.
Murkowski’s role in the Senate is expected to be an evolving one. Her votes during the lame-duck session in December showed a more moderate senator, freed from the obligations of the Republican leadership role. She voted with the Senate’s Democratic majority on tax policy, ending the military’s ban on gays in the military, a nuclear arms treaty with Russia and even immigration.
On Wednesday, though, there was no talk of what her place will be in the Senate. Instead, the day was a celebratory one, spent with her family.