02/11/2013 08:29 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

Alaska GOP's Big Tent: Too big, or Too Big to Fail?

Over the course of decades, the Alaska Republican Party built itself a political powerhouse by erecting a big tent with room for a lot of divergent views. And today the party finds itself with a war beneath the big top focused on who is and who isn't conservative enough. On one side are supporters of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the loser of the 2010 Republican primary who pulled off an unprecedented write-in campaign to win the general election. On the other are arch-conservative backers of failed Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and failed Senate candidate Joe Miller.

Feelings run high on both sides. Angry Murkowski supporters worried about a party takeover by Paul-Miller insurgents rolled party chairman-elect Russ Millette. That left Millette supporters outraged.

After the party's state executive committee voted to oust the 67-year-old Millette, one Miller supporter observed "this stuff has nothing to do with Millette. These Murkowski pricks are completely corrupt. They're the ones that are behind the whole thing. Almost all of them have violated party rules, and then have the audacity to accuse others."

Murkowski and her supporters represent the Republican old guard. She was friends with the late Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican icon. Her father, Frank, served in the Senate with Stevens before resigning so he could run for governor. He won, and then appointed his daughter to his old Senate seat, which helped raise the ire of a former mayor of Wasilla named Sarah Palin.

But that's getting ahead of a story that really goes back to when Democrats controlled Alaska the way Republicans do today. Democrats ruled in the statewide vote of 1958 that paved the way to Alaska statehood a year later. Democrat Bill Egan was elected governor. Democrats Bob Bartlett and Ernest Gruening went to the U.S. Senate. Democrat Ralph Rivers became the state's first Congressman.

The state was a solid Democrat blue. ...

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