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Republican Trouble In Palin Country

It’s possible, perhaps even probable, that Republican Joe Miller could run away with one of Alaska’s Senate seats in November, but with the Republican side of the ballot in open rebellion, that’s no longer a foregone conclusion.

What’s really interesting isn’t that the Democrats could pick up a second Senate seat in solidly Republican Alaska. No, what could be most remarkable is if incumbent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski beats the odds and comes back to the Senate next year. Confused? If you think this sounds more like reality TV series than a political campaign don’t worry, it actually gets more complicated, including a cameo role from Alaska’s former half-term governor, Sarah Palin.

Murkowski was upended last month in Alaska’s Republican primary by Miller, who until weeks ago wasn’t even well-known in his home state. Miller defeated Murkowski in no small measure due to not only the backing of the tea party movement, but also to a personal endorsement from “mama grizzly” Palin herself.

That Palin would support Miller over Murkowski isn’t surprising, given the longstanding bad blood between Palin and the Murkowski family.

Murkowski first entered the Senate in 2002, appointed to the job by her father, Frank. Frank Murkowski had held the Senate seat himself, but that year had been elected governor.  He named his daughter to take his old job, but four years later, Palin defeated the elder Murkowski in the GOP primary for governor.

Fast forward to this year. The younger Murkowski didn’t take Miller’s challenge seriously enough until it was too late.  Although Lisa Murkowski has compiled a mainstream conservative voting record, going so far as unsuccessfully trying earlier this year to stop the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from using it authority to regulate greenhouse gases, Miller relentlessly attacked her as a “liberal.”  Murkowski lost her nomination, but she didn’t give up, deciding instead to mount a last-minute write-in campaign to remain Alaska’s senior senator.

The mayor of Sitka, Alaska, Democrat Scott McAdams was hardly better known than Miller had been. Given that Alaskans overwhelmingly vote Republicans, McAdams had been little more than token opposition.  But with conservatives split between Miller and Murkowski, he now has a real chance of joining fellow Alaska Democrat Mark Begich in the Senate.  A recent Harris poll backs up that possibility.

In an election such as that in Alaska, in which a Republican like Murkowski is running separately from the tea party-backed candidate, such as Miller, 41 percent would vote for the Democratic candidate, 23 percent would vote for the Republican, 13 percent would vote for the Tea Party candidate and 23 percent are still not at all sure.  Among those voters who say they are absolutely certain to vote, 42 percent would vote Democrat, 26 percent would vote Republican, 17 percent would vote for the Tea Party candidate and 15 percent are not at all sure; not good news for either Murkowski or Miller.  Although no one has won in a write-in campaign for U.S. Senate since Strom Thurmond was running as a Democrat in the 1950s, it would be unwise to write off Murkowski’s write-in.

Four years ago and thousands of miles from Alaska, Joe Lieberman lost his Democratic nomination for re-election, but he went on to win anyway as an independent.  Murkowski’s refusal to take no nomination for an answer is proving to be as uncomfortable for Republicans as Lieberman’s was for Democrats in 2006.  After initially backing her, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee turned on Murkowski, denouncing her write-in effort.  after all of this dissension, it would be somewhat delicious if Murkowski were to defeat both of her opponents in November and return to the Senate in January.

About Scott Nance

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/realist Realist

    I don’t see Murkowski joining the Democratic Caucus should she win. I can see her maybe forming up with the few so-called moderate Republicans (and Joe LIEberman) to be the balance of power in the Senate. They could play both sides against their middle, or they could keep anything from happening at all.

    It’s really up to Joementum. If he can convince these so-called moderates to follow his lead, he would be the effective leader of the Senate, a role he would relish. Murkowski -along with Snowe and Collins- would make the perfect bloc for Joe to wield in his bid to decide what the Senate will and will not enact. He could stop both sides and not give a damn who he pisses off, for they would have to kiss his ass to get anything passed – or blocked.

  • Actual Alaskan

    This article is silly. 41% will vote democrat? Where are you polling? I’ve lived here 32 years, and have voted in every election since 1988, and I see the reality of a two way race between Miller and Murkowski. Murkowski is far more likely to split the democrat vote, and that is why the tea party express is attacking her with all this fear mongering business about the democrats gaining a seat because of her. This state is SO red, that even the democrats lean conservative, and Murkowski has a REAL shot. That is what is newsworthy.

  • Observer

    First off, Alaskans are not going to reelect Murkowski. Lieberman was not a write in candidate, but ran as an independent with his name already printed on the ballots. Delawareans did not have to write in Lieberman’s name.
    Second, the Senate Republicans did not turn on her, she turned on them. They are the Republican party, not the Independent party. They will back the Republican candidate and not the independent candidate, via a write in. Joe Miller is THE Republican candidate, ergo, they will back him.
    Murkowski stands more as a spoiler and is more in line to hurt the Republicans from keeping the seat by letting the Democrat take it.
    Murkowski is treating this as an entitlement to her and it is the “Murkowski Seat” just like Massachusetts had the “Kennedy Seat.” After all, a Murkowski has sat in that seat in Washington since 1982. She is taking the scorched earth approach that if she can’t have the seat then no other Republican can have the seat, because WAHHH, they didn’t help her enough.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/realist Realist

    Observer obviously isn’t. He’s mixed up Lieberman (Connecticut) with O’Donnell (Delaware).

    Thanks for playing!

  • Arch Conservative

    I think Actual Alaskan has it right. While I myself have never been to Alaskan, all of the conversations I’ve had with people that have lived there or been there indicate that it’s highly unlikely the Dems will pick up a seat there.

    Alaska is America’s last frontier. It’s a place that attracts independent, self reliant, non-conformists. I find it hard to believe that the namby pamby, nanny state values of today’s Democrat party are going to play well there.

    But I guess all the Democrats and their supporters have left to cling to the next thirty days is the ridiculous talking points handed down by the DNC as to why the Dems will win in this state or that state.

    In less than a month from now we will all know the answers. I believe the GOP will win back the House and gain a few seats in the Senate. So we’ll be going from Sucks to Sucks Lite. Zippety friggin doo dah!

  • John Wilson

    Arch seems to be utterly deluded by rightist propaganda:

    “Alaska is America’s last frontier. It’s a place that attracts independent, self reliant, non-conformists. I find it hard to believe that the namby pamby, nanny state values of today’s Democrat party are going to play well there.”

    Alaska is the welfare state. Alaska is totally dependent on excess money from the federal government. They get about $3 for every $1 they send to washington in taxes. They are able to do that because they have 2 senators, just like New York or California or Texas which have 50 times the population.

    Plus, they tax the hell out of oil companies.

    Alaska is a client state.

  • Arch Conservative

    I’m deluded by rightist propaganda?

    Why don’t we wait to see whose intuition pans out this Novemeber to see who is truly delusional.

  • zingzing

    archie, what you say is a distortion of the reality. john lays out some facts for you, but you don’t respond to them. alaska is, however it is populated, a welfare state. people may think they’re the ones roughing it, but they benefit greatly from the federal gov’t’s cash. growing a beard and talking tough (and that’s just the women…) doesn’t change anything.

  • http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/danmiller/ Dan(Miller)

    The little people should just mind their pitiful little businesses and get out of the way. Just look at them! They are wasting money supporting candidates they like rather than those selected by their betters. It’s a damn shame and they should just stop. The Government needs the money and they are just throwing it down the sewer.

    This article from grossly right wing ABC shows how bad it has become. Sadly, Speaker Pelosi has raised less than one percent of her campaign contributions from small scale individual donors, while her (ugh) Tea party opponent has received sixty-four percent from such miscreants. The obviously biased article provides other disgusting examples of popular profligacy. This foolishness must stop, right now before its too late.

    Sob, sob. What’s a righteously mainstream guy to do?

    Dan(Miller)