Republican leaders in Washington really had no choice but to back Joe Miller, the failed Alaska Republican Senate candidate. But it's a decision that could lead to a lot of headaches now that Sen. Lisa Murkowski is retaking her seat as an Independent Republican.
No longer beholden to the party, her first act of the new Senate term was to reject the Republican Party line.
Republicans in Washington had been touting a self-imposed moratorium on "earmarks" – pet spending projects -- as a way to distinguish themselves from Democrats. Republicans would be the party of limited spending and smaller government.
Even longtime earmarkers like the Republican Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, changed course to support the ban.
But Murkowski issued a blistering statement Tuesday night making clear she would not be on board. Banning earmarks, she argued, is akin to giving the reins of government to bureaucrats.
"The notion that Congress would abdicate its constitutional duty and turn federal spending over to government bureaucrats is wrong and goes against the Constitution's mandate that says the power of the purse lies with the legislative branch of government," she said.
Other Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., grumbled about the moratorium and promised to support it only until their state needed a special project.
But Murkowski declared war on the moratorium.
"We recognize that we need to stop out-of-control spending, but let's make sure that the action we take actually translates into spending and deficit reduction rather than just messaging," said Murkowski. She said she'll fight for Alaska's "fair share" of its appropriations dollars and called the moratorium a "shell game that moves the money and the decision-making responsibility from Congress to the bureaucracy."
She also made a point of her agreement on the subject of earmarks with the other Alaska senator, Democrat Mark Begich.
Murkowski originally got her Senate seat in the easiest possible way – she was appointed to take over when her father ran for governor. But she won reelection in 2004 by a narrow margin and now has won a second time in the most difficult possible way - as a write-in candidate – after she lost the Republican primary.
Murkowski was not the most loyal Republican even when she was a Republican. She voted with the party about 84 percent of the time in 2010, which was a good part of the reason she was challenged from the right by Joe Miller.
There is no doubt she will still vote most of the time as a Republican.
But as the new and clearly most popular politician in the state – apologies to Sarah Palin, who campaigned hard for Miller and against Murkowski – her independence is already showing.
Other moderate Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, supported the moratorium, but with caveats.
Murkowski now joins two other Independents in the Senate – Senators Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Both help Democrats ensure their majority.
But Lieberman was essentially kicked out of the Democratic Party in 2006 when he, like Murkowski, lost a primary.