Sen. Murkowski seeks spot in Republican leadership

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has decided to seek a spot in the Senate Republican leadership that suddenly became available Wednesday.
Murkowski is phoning GOP colleagues to gauge support for her race to be vice chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. The position is the fifth in the hierarchy of Senate Republican leaders.
The closed-door election by Senate Republicans will be held June 25.
The position opened up during a fast-paced day on Capitol Hill following the admission by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., that he had an affair with a campaign staff aide who was married to one of his Senate staff assistants. Ensign also is married.
Ensign resigned his position as chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee Wednesday in the wake of the scandal.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., immediately said he would seek to move up from vice chairman to chairman. Murkowski then began to put feelers out about running for vice chairman.
Murkowski attends weekly Republican leadership meetings as one of three counsels appointed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“I have been participating and giving my input and thinking down the road about the prospect of coming on in an elected capacity,” Murkowski said in an interview Wednesday. “I did not anticipate there would be an opening until the next Congress.”
Murkowski said, “I do feel I have something to offer, a moderating voice in our conference, which is good.”
She said she has received “a very positive response” from Senate Republicans.
The state could reap rewards, she said.
“Anytime we are at the table, it benefits Alaska,” Murkowski said.
Members of the Senate leadership set the agenda and formulate strategy for dealing with the opposing party.
In the clubby 100-member Senate, leadership positions often become stepping stones to greater power. The top-ranking leaders usually start out in a lesser position such as policy committee vice chairman.
If Murkowski succeeds in the race, it will continue a meteoric rise for the senator, who joined the Senate in December 2002. She was appointed by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, to succeed him in the Senate. She won the seat in her own right in 2004 and is gearing up for a re-election campaign.
Murkowski has soared this year in the Senate, becoming the ranking Republican member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and joining the powerful Appropriations Committee.
If she does not win, “it will not break my heart,” Murkowski said. “I certainly have a lot to do already.”
News reports cited Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., as another possible candidate for the job as vice chairman, but his office declined to comment.

By:  Betty Mills