Been here before

Posted: Friday, September 10, 2010

The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:

Alaska elections have a tendency to get complicated - even occasionally downright crazy. Our electoral history includes power outages in the middle of polling, missing ballots found in file cabinets, party-hopping, serious write-ins, candidates undone by campaign-funding scandals and razor-thin margins requiring recounts - and in one recent primary a coin toss - to settle. So all the post-primary possibilities aren't exceptional. Just Alaskan.

That U.S. Senate race that seemed settled last week with Sen. Lisa Murkowski's concession didn't look so settled as of Labor Day. Speculation continued about a Murkowski write-in campaign for the general election. Speculation continued about Democrat Scott McAdams giving way to a better-known Democrat, as if McAdams sufficed as a sacrificial lamb but not as a contender for a seat in play. That last seems unlikely.

And Bill Walker, defeated by Gov. Sean Parnell in the Republican primary, still wasn't ready to call it quits, encouraged by his late gains before the primary and polling numbers after the primary.

Refusal to submit to primary results entails risk. Candidates who run write-in campaigns must run up a steep hill - even popular candidates with plenty of name recognition.

Money may be hard to raise. Accusations of sour grapes come with such a candidacy. A losing run as a write-in is no politician's idea of a good way to end a career.

But then there's the lightning strike. In 1990, Wally Hickel looked at the primary results for governor and saw his chance. Tony Knowles won the Democratic nomination. Arliss Sturgulewski won the Republican nomination. Hickel jumped in and took the Alaskan Independence Party slot for governor. Jack Coghill, the GOP lieutenant governor winner, abandoned Sturgulewski for Hickel and off they went on a short crusade that put them in office. That was particularly sweet for Hickel, who lost a write-in effort in 1978 after a crazy primary that wound up in court, and another in 1986. That was particularly galling for Sturgulewski, who was left alone on the GOP ticket until Jim Campbell chivalrously agreed to be her running mate.

So the smart money says write-in or adopted political-party campaigns are tough and often quixotic - but Alaska history also whispers temptingly that they can succeed.

History's whisper may have less to do with any decision by Murkowski or Walker than will the prospects of campaign cash and a cold-eyed look at the numbers. But Alaskans shouldn't be surprised if one or more primary election loser refuses to accept defeat and makes a run at November. We've been here before.

Our primary elections aren't necessarily semi-final.

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