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Murkowski to Launch Write-In Bid

Murkowski to Launch Write-In Bid

By Scott Conroy - September 17, 2010


Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski will announce tonight in Anchorage she intends to pursue reelection as a write-in candidate after losing the GOP primary to Fairbanks attorney and tea party-backed insurgent candidate Joe Miller.

The news is not unexpected, as Murkowski strongly hinted on yesterday in an interview with The Anchorage Daily News  that she would fight to hold onto her seat.

"When you think about the outcome of that, in a closed Republican primary, how many Alaskans were actually able to weigh in? So what is the will of the constituency? When you hear this outpouring of support and concern -- concern about the future of the state of Alaska and our representation here in the Senate -- you do feel a responsibility," Murkowski said.

Murkowski's campaign manager John Bitney told RealClearPolitics earlier this week that the senator has received a tremendous amount of encouragement from Alaskans to remain in the race, and her campaign office has remained up and running as she has weighed her options.

"It's pretty hard to say you're not a quitter and then quit," said Alaska Republican pollster Dave Dittman, referring to a comment that Murkowski made about herself earlier this month.

Dittman recently conducted a poll that was commissioned by Murkowski supporter Andrew Halcro, a former independent gubernatorial candidate and Republican state legislator who remains one of Murkowski's most vocal backers in the state.

Dittman's survey of "proven voters," (Alaskans who voted in the last general election) found that 37 percent would support Murkowski as a write-in candidate, while 32 percent backed Miller and 19 percent were behind Democratic nominee Scott Adams.

Polling data has been notoriously unreliable in Alaska during this election cycle, and the results from Dittman's poll should be treated with particular caution, since the voters he surveyed did not need to write in Murkowski's name to express their support for her.

Still, the results of the poll challenge the premise that a Murkowski write-in bid would be inevitably doomed to failure.

"I'd say it'd at least be a toss up," Dittman said. "I wouldn't say that she's not the favorite."

Reports over the last few weeks have noted the inherent challenges in mounting a write-in campaign, especially one in which, as Alaska's rules dictate, the candidate's campaign cannot distribute stickers that may be placed on the ballot as a means of voting.

The last U.S. Senator to launch a successful write-in campaign was Strom Thurmond in 1954, but Dittman cautioned against viewing Murkowski's situation from an historical perspective.

"In the past, write-ins have always been non-entities, or kind of fringy people that don't have any money or don't belong anywhere or don't have name identification, and that's why they're write-ins," Dittman said. "And none of those drawbacks apply to Sen. Murkowski. She has a lot of money; she has well over $1 million to spend in six weeks. She has virtual 100 percent name identification. She doesn't have any traditional drawbacks that write-ins have."

What Murkowski would not have would be the support of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has switched its support to Miller and pledged to his campaign the maximum financial contribution of $212,600.

But advertising is cheap and outside influence only goes so far in Alaska, where Murkowski enjoys almost universal name recognition and a reputation as a moderate Republican that could appeal to independents and Democrats who may not see McAdams as viable.

"I think she has a lot of support from all spectrums of politics," said Myrna Maynard, a Murkowski backer and member of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women. "If all the people who've said they want her to run will be there should she make the announcement that she's going to run, then I think she stands a very good chance."

There has already been some dispute about the standards by which write-in votes would be judged admissible.

The director of the state's division of elections has said that a ballot would be deemed acceptable as long as the voter's intent was clear, but Alaska's lieutenant governor Craig Campbell clarified that state law mandates voters must write in the candidate's last name in full.

The Murkowski campaign would have to devote significant resources to educating voters not just on the correct spelling of her name but also on the necessity of filling in the bubble next to the write-in space on the ballot.

But that process won't begin until after Friday evening when Murkowski addresses her supporters in Anchorage at 5 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time.

 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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