Time’s Jay Newton-Small noticed something interesting at a Lisa Murkowski rally in Alaska last Friday evening. The Republican Senator had some prominent Democrats joining her on the dais, which underscores the threat to both Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams from a Murkowski write-in campaign. It may well draw more votes away from McAdams than Miller, and McAdams cannot afford to lose any:
There will be two names on the ballot in the Alaska race for U.S. Senate this November: Joe Miller and Scott McAdams. But in events today for both those candidates the 800-pound gorilla in the room was incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, who announced Friday she will seek a write in bid to keep her seat after losing the GOP primary to Miller last month.
McAdams’s press conference to unveil his five-point education plan was aimed at leaching teacher support from Murkowski. The National Education Association early on endorsed Murkowski and the group on Friday reaffirmed their endorsement of her candidacy, even as a write in. But McAdams, who has the support of the AFL-CIO, believes that rank-and-file teachers will come his way when they realize what a long shot Murkowski’s candidacy is. “I have a natural connection with teachers,” says McAdams, who got his start in politics petitioning the school board that he would eventually sit on to allow him to form a football team. “And I believe in the hearts and minds to teachers they will recognize that I am the true school advocate in this race.”
The Sitka mayor — the fifth largest town in Alaska, McAdams was quick to point out, right behind Wasilla — seemed nervous in my interview with him, though that may be due to his lack of experience with national reporters and issues. He has good reason to be nervous. Murkowski poses as much, if not a greater threat to him than she does to Miller. McAdams has yet to prove himself as a viable candidate to the powers that be in Washington and, though he’s raised $300,000 in the last three weeks, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has yet to invest in his campaign beyond dispatching a few staffers. There were also some prominent Democrats at Murkowski’s Friday night rally, leading to local speculation the Dems might be flirting with Murkowski in case she actually wins.
It depends on whether Murkowski actually intends to campaign to win, or to conduct a dog-in-the-manger campaign to kneecap Miller out of spite. If she wants to win, she can’t do it by running as a conservative; she tried that and lost in the primary. She will have to do a Charlie Crist instead, painting herself as a reasonable moderate that neither party can match — and to do that, she’ll have to triangulate more on McAdams’ agenda than on Miller’s.
The guest list to her event seems to indicate that Murkowski wants to go for the win. Having prominent Democrats as part of her rally (Newton-Small doesn’t identify them or their specific prominence) indicates that she’s taking aim at conservative-to-moderate Democrats and independent voters. Plus, the fact that they showed up at all demonstrates a lack of confidence in their own nominee, in a similar situation to Florida’s Democrats when Crist was leading in the polls.
That didn’t work out well for either the Democrat or the independent in that race, and it probably won’t work any better in Alaska, either. Newton-Small gets the relevant history wrong in this case:
A write in candidacy is incredibly difficult and has never been done successfully in Alaska. The last person to try was former Gov. Wally Hickel — whom I interviewed last year for my Palin story but, I’m sorry to say, passed away in May — in 1978. He got 26.4% of the vote and that was using stickers that voters could affix to the ballots – a practice banned by Alaska a decade ago.
As Eric Ostermeier reported at Smart Politics last week, that’s not accurate. The last write-in campaign took place in 1998, where three write-in candidates vied for the governor’s seat. The most successful of the three, Robin Taylor, got 18.9% of the vote — and that was with the GOP endorsement. The Republican nominee in the race got embroiled in scandal, causing the GOP to pull its endorsement and attempt to get Taylor in via the write-in method. Even with major party backing, fewer than one in five voters bothered to write in Taylor’s name.
But Newton-Small is right about the potential draw of those who do bother to write in Murkowski’s name. They’re just as likely to be Democrats as Republicans or independents — and perhaps more likely.