. . . insisting there is no ‘blood war’ between her and former Gov. Palin

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s endorsement of her more conservative GOP primary challenger caught her by surprise but strongly disputes the notion that there is a “blood war” between two of the most powerful families in Alaska.

“It was a bit of a surprise, and only because she has been supportive of my work on behalf of the state of Alaska and has publicly said so,” Murkowski said in an interview.

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Palin joined the Tea Party movement in endorsing little-known attorney and former judge Joe Miller, whose candidacy has since gained more widespread state and national attention.

Murkowski noted that she and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) — Palin’s partner on the 2008 GOP presidential ticket — were the first two to receive money from Palin’s political action committee last year.

And she says things are cordial between the two of them — despite a history that suggests otherwise.

Palin handily beat her father in the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary. Three years later, Murkowski made headlines when she commented on Palin’s decision to relinquish her post 18 months before the end of her first term. At the time, Murkowski said she was “deeply disappointed that the governor has decided to abandon the state and her constituents before her term has concluded.”

“Lisa’s normally very careful and cautious about what she says,” said Mark Hellenthal, an Anchorage-based Republican pollster. “She wasn’t that time, and she’s now paying the price for that. Sarah’s very vindictive.”

Pressed on her 2009 remarks, Murkowski responded, “I did not offer a criticism. I offered a statement, plain and simple.”

She said, “I do not have any differences or issues with Gov. Palin, and I have suggested just exactly that. It’s interesting, because I think people who don’t know us or are from outside the state think that there’s some kind of blood war or something that goes on between the Palins and the Murkowskis. I would like to think that we will continue to have the respectful professional relationship.

“I think some people assumed that because we’re from a small state and we’re both Republican women that we get together for coffee every Monday,” she added.

Palin’s endorsement of Miller “does not make me think any less of her,” Murkowski said. “If she wants to be that person that those within the Tea Party look to for that leadership, then she picks out these candidates from around the country and says this would be a good person. Apparently, she’s done that with Mr. Miller over me. It surprises me, but again, I’m not quite sure where she’s going with her political ambitions, but maybe this just fits right in.”

Palin’s spokesman did not comment for this article.

Murkowski was far more critical about the help Miller is getting in the campaign from the Tea Party Express, which she labels as a California-based group trying to tell Alaskans what to do.

“When somebody from another state comes in and says, ‘I’m here because I don’t think that your senator is doing what she needs to do,’ as an Alaskan, I take a little bit of offense at that,” she said. “I can observe for myself, I can make my own decisions. And besides that, what does a Californian know about what the people in Alaska need and want?”

Levi Russell, communications director for the Tea Party Express, said that while the main office is located in Sacramento, the group boasts roughly 400,000 members nationwide, including 2,000 in Alaska.

“To say that we’re California-based I think is insulting to all our proud Alaskans that are members,” said Russell.

Murkowski is way up in polls, leading by about 40 percentage points over Miller. If she wins her primary on Aug. 24, Murkowski is expected to win easily in November.