Can Murkowski win? Update: Calling all lobbyists!

Nate Silver says not to count out Lisa Murkowski too quickly in her six-week write-in campaign to save her job in the US Senate:

Can Ms. Murkowski win? Sure she can. There is plenty of precedent for write-ins being elected to the Congress, although fewer have done so successfully in recent years. Meanwhile, a poll by Public Policy Polling found Ms. Murkowski getting 34 percent of the vote against Mr. Miller’s 38 percent and Mr. McAdams’ 22 percent. Private polling has also shown Ms. Murkowski running closely with Mr. Miller, according to The Hotline. …

Ms. Murkowski, whose father served as Senator and Governor of Alaska from 1981 through 2006, has near-universal name recognition in Alaska, whereas Ms. Sekula-Gibbs — who had previously been a member of the Houston City Council — did not. And, as The Times reported, Alaska’s elections secretary, Gail Fenumiai, is prepared to take a fairly liberal interpretation of voter intent. Ballots that misspell Ms. Murkowski’s surname would probably be counted, for instance, and so might ballots that identified her by her given name (e.g. “Lisa M.”).

Ms. Murkowski also has plenty of access to money; she had more than $1.8 million in cash-in-hand as of early August, although it is unclear how much of it she spent in the late stages of the primary campaign against Mr. Miller.

Doug Mataconis is more skeptical:

Will it work ? I tend to agree with Steven Taylor and, yes, Sarah Palin, that it won’t. However, in a year that has been filled with the unexpected, I would not say it’s entirely impossible for Lisa Murkowski to become the first Senator elected by a write-in vote since Strom Thurmond in 1954.

One thing is for certain, the Senate election in Alaska will not be decided on Election Night, and probably not for a long time thereafter. There will be a substantial number of write-in votes to count and, no doubt, a substantial number of disputes over whether a given write-in vote should actually be counted in Murkowski’s favor (“Lisa Murkowski” would count, for example, but what about simply  “Murkowski,” or “Lisa Murkoski,” or “Lisa M,” or “Senator Lisa” ? Depending on how close the vote is, we could see a repeat of the Coleman-Franken fight from the 2008 Senate Election in Minnesota, and Alaska’s junior (or is it Senior ?) Senate seat may not be filled when the new Congress convenes in January.

In other words, get out the popcorn.

However, both miss a long history of these campaigns in Alaska — and their long track record of futility.  Eric Ostermeier of Smart Politics researched the topic in his usually thorough manner and unearthed a string of losing, and mainly embarrassing, write-in campaigns in America’s Arctic state.  The list of those who have tried bypassing the nominating process includes both unknowns and scions of dynasties, but they all have one common label … loser:

The problem for Murkowski is not simply that only one U.S. Senator in history has been elected via a write-in campaign (Strom Thurmond won 63.1 percent of the vote in South Carolina’s 1954 Senate race).

The problem is that Alaska politicians have already attempted this feat for statewide offices several times over the past 50 years without success.

A Smart Politics analysis of data from the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and State of Alaska Division of Elections finds there have been eight general election write-in campaigns for statewide office in Alaska over the past 26 election cycles dating back to 1958.

Two of these campaigns were for U.S. Senate seats.

The most recent attempt came in 1998, in the gubernatorial race.  Nick Begich, Jr — whose father was a US Congressman until his tragic 1972 plane crash and whose brother won a US Senate seat in 2008 — ran a write-in campaign that netted a whopping 579 votes.  That didn’t even qualify as the best write-in campaign of the race, though, as Wayne Ross won 801 votes.  Robin Taylor got over 40,000 write-in votes for governor in that race, but Taylor had the GOP endorsement; they had to withdraw their endorsement of the nominee because of a fundraising scandal and tried to get voters to write in Taylor instead.  Even with GOP backing of the write-in campaign and a last name people could spell easily, Taylor got less than 19% of the vote.

In that election, Taylor had the advantage of having a party endorsement and not having run afoul of the very voters he needed in the primary.  Lisa Murkowski has never been terribly popular with Alaskans, not since her father appointed her to the Senate seat she holds.  She won in 2004, mainly due to the overwhelming support for George Bush in Alaska.  She just lost her primary, which means more than half of the people who would normally be inclined to vote for the Republican didn’t want her in the general election anyway.  Murkowski offered no compelling reason to vote for her in the primary, and the only compelling reason for the write-in bid seems to be that Lisa Murkowski likes living in Washington DC.  It seems difficult to imagine that she would outperform Taylor’s 1998 showing while the GOP endorses and works for Joe Miller, and 18.9% won’t win a Senate race.

Update: Speaking of not offering a compelling narrative

Less than an hour before Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski planned to announce a write-in campaign to retain her seat, her top aide e-mailed scores of the most prominent lobbyists in Washington to ask them to join a Saturday conference call with the senator. …

Karen Knutson, Murkowski’s chief of staff, emailed scores of top lobbyists in town and employees at some of the largest oil companies – including Chevron, Conoco Phillips and Marathon Oil – to ask them to join the senator on a conference call Saturday, according to a copy of the e-mail and a recipient list obtained by POLITICO.

“To my friends in D.C. – if you are so inclined, please join us for a conference call with Lisa Murkowski tomorrow at 2:30 D.C. time and 10:30 Alaska time,” wrote Knutson. “She would love to have the chance to talk with you and answer any questions you may have. Please let me know if you intend to call in.”

What will be the message?  “Gentlemen — we have to protect her phony-baloney job” (mildly NSFW)?  I have a better idea — give the Senator a harrumph.