09/21/2010 01:04 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Tea Party & Palin Caught by Surprise in Alaska

Don't Cry For Me Wasilla

What's next for the Republican Party: eating their own young?

The victory of a somewhat disoriented Tea Party senate nominee in Delaware got the media spin machine going into a high gear this week.

The victory of the anti-masturbation candidate, in a state with three counties, was hailed as the Tea Party's biggest primary victory.

Actually, it's biggest win was in Alaska, where the virtually unknown Joe Miller defeated U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose family has been a force in state politics for decades.

Still, despite a razor-thin victory, Republicans were expected to unite behind Miller to avoid ending up with both Alaska U.S. senators being Democrats. Scott McAdams, the mayor of Sitka, was seen as almost unelectable because he was little known outside the southeast coast.

That may have changed. Murkowski announced Friday night that she was launching a write-in campaign. First, she read a statement written by the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens before his death. He said "she's a fighter... I trust her commitment to do what's best for Alaska."

She made clear it would have been easier to just go home. Instead she threw down the gauntlet.

"My campaign for Alaska's future begins," she said before she formally announced she would challenge the Republican Party's official campaign.

Murkowski was much milder in her condemnation of McAdams, saying he lacked the experience needed, than Miller. She said voters have told her "we cannot accept the extremist views of Joe Miller." She called the Tea Party an "outside interest" group.

Miller's campaign angered her and others when they suggested vote counters might manipulate the counting to give Murkowski a victory.

Conventional wisdom has it that write-in campaigns are quixotic. But in these days of mailed ballots, a voter needn't be intimidated by staying inside the booth to figure out how to do it.

If you wanted to see two words together that have always seemed unlikely, here goes. Sarah Palin, who endorsed Miller, is saying people need to put beside their differences and unite behind the Republican.

Murkowski made clear she was one woman who wasn't going to quit on Alaska. Palin resigned after her failed vice presidential campaign.

Or will the umbilical cord that connects the GOP and the Tea Party be cut?

For Murkowski, "the gloves are off."

Strom Thurmond was the last write-in candidate elected to the U.S. Senate, way back in 1954.