Write-in option poses challenges, opportunity

Posted: Friday, September 10, 2010

JUNEAU - For U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the odds of waging a successful write-in candidacy to try to keep her job would be exceedingly long, the personal political stakes, sky high.

Plus, history wouldn't be on her side.

Though others in Alaska have tried the write-in route - Wally Hickel in 1978, Robin Taylor in '98, both in gubernatorial races, as examples - none that historians and elections officials can think of have pulled it off. Hickel, a Republican, did win the governor's office for a second time, in 1990, though, running on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket.

Murkowski, who, since her GOP primary loss to Joe Miller, has been besieged by supporters urging her to stay in the race, has been weighing her options, which include a write-in bid, a third-party run as a Libertarian or dropping all efforts. She's given no timeline for a decision though she doesn't have much time to make one: the general election is less than eight weeks away.

And getting people to show up to write-in her name wouldn't be her only challenge: Though Murkowski is Alaska's senior senator and has shown formidable fundraising prowess, she's lost support from within the Republican establishment, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which came out in support of Miller after she conceded the primary last week and has committed more than $212,000 to Miller's first statewide run for public office.

"This is a Republican seat. We have every confidence it's going to remain a Republican seat, and we want to demonstrate our commitment to keeping it a Republican seat," committee spokesman Brian Walsh said Thursday. "We are firmly behind Joe Miller, regardless of what may or may not happen" with Murkowski.

Murkowski ended this week's final ballot count 2,013 votes behind Miller, having picked up seven from the previous week's tally.

Earlier this week, she said that upon conceding she had been ready to begin considering her future outside the Senate. But she'd been humbled by the volume of calls, e-mails and people just coming up to her, asking her to consider fighting on and that she was giving thought to what they had to say. There's a Facebook page devoted to a write-in Murkowski effort; it had over 1,200 "likes" early Thursday afternoon.

Murkowski said that if this was "all about Lisa, certainly the easy thing for me to do would be to figure out what my next opportunity would be with my family and just settle in to a nice job. But what I'm looking at is my state and the future of my state for my kids."

She also acknowledged the high risk involved in staying in the race.

There are no guarantees: Will those same people urging her to run actually show up to vote for her? If she stays in, will she face a backlash from voters who think she should have accepted her fate in the primary? Will she be able to breathe new life into a campaign that's been through an emotional wringer?

"On the plus side, and what enhances the opportunity for Sen. Murkowski, is both Miller and (Democrat Scott) McAdams are untried and that will weigh on voters as they go to the polls," University of Alaska Anchorage history professor Steve Haycox said. "And maybe that opens the door for her."

David Haase, the Libertarian candidate who met with Murkowski Tuesday, hasn't yet decided whether he'll withdraw his name from the ballot; he has until Wednesday to do so. If he does, that would leave an opening, though, again, there's no guarantees Murkowski would get the slot. Party leaders rejected the idea of putting her on once before, but Chairman Scott Kohlhaas, who earlier this week summed up the chances of a Murkowski Libertarian run as seemingly impossible, replied only with a "no comment" Thursday when asked if the possibility was dead.

The way Haycox sees it, should Murkowski stay in the race she needs to be confident in her chances of winning. "I think the thing that would operate the most on her mind is, How would it look to mount this campaign and lose?"

Particularly when it comes to a write-in candidacy, he said, "it's a steep, steep uphill climb ... and winning is just highly problematic."

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