Just a few weeks ago, Sitka Mayor Scott Adams thought he'd be facing Sen. Lisa Murkowski in his quest to represent Alaska in the U.S. Senate.
He will, but instead of facing her as a Republican in an Alaska political spectrum that refracts mostly red, McAdams will take on not just write-in candidate Murkowski, but also the man who beat her for the Republican nomination, Joe Miller.
While Democrat McAdams promised to make a spirited run against presumed GOP nominee Murkowski, the reality is most political observers considered her nearly unbeatable by a Democrat in a statewide general election.
Prominent Democrats such as former Gov. Tony Knowles and former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer declined to challenge Murkowski, but the Democratic Party at the last minute found its candidate in Sitka. And they found him close by; Sitka is where the party convention was held.
McAdams said he was planning to campaign on the weekends and attend as many political events as his job as director of community schools would allow and at least provide voters with a choice.
On election night, while other candidates gathered in Anchorage, McAdams instead presided over an Assembly meeting in Sitka.
After the primary votes were counted, however, Tea Party favorite Joe Miller had upset the heavily favored Murkowski.
Now facing both Miller and Murkowski, and possessing a much greater chance of victory, McAdams has changed his plans and taken a leave of absence from his education job in order to campaign full time.
He also received a quick $250,000 from suddenly interested Democrats around the nation, and found himself being interviewed by the New York Times.
Shortly after Murkowski conceded she'd lost the Republican primary, McAdams sounded like a polished political pro as he set about to diminish expectations, which can help exceed them later.
"I'm just a small-town mayor, not an Ivy League lawyer," McAdams said in a teleconference with reporters. Miller earned a law degree from Yale.
His newly invigorated campaign brought in new staff, including members from the office of Sen. Mark Begich, who have previously run statewide campaigns.
McAdams is now crafting a campaign strategy aimed at running against Miller and his Tea party backers.
"Our campaign is about Alaskans, not a set of Tea Party talking points," he said.
McAdams is now crafting a strategy in which he's painting himself as the moderate choice who should be preferred candidate for Democrats, independents and even most Republicans in Alaska.
"I think Washington, D.C. has been broken by partisanship," he said, and said sending Miller to the Senate would not be good for Alaska.
"These folks are so far to the right that they're not even recognized by Republicans," he said.
McAdams said his style of small-town common sense is what the state needs.
"Alaska is a center-right state, no doubt about it, but we're not a far-right state," he said.
Miller's opposition to earmarks will not serve Alaska well, he said because what makes Alaska different from other states - including vast distances, a harsh climate and low population density - means federal programs designed for other states don't always work well in Alaska.
"Nobody had the challenges we have," McAdams said.
For example, he federal No Child Left Behind program requires school districts to provide transportation to students in failing schools to other schools in the same district. Achievable, perhaps, when a transfer requires a little further drive to a different part of a big city, but much more difficult when a transfer means hopping on a plane.
McAdams described a visit by Bush-era Education Secretary Rodney Paige to Alaska when, Paige discovered that schools students were given the right to transfer to were sometimes two and a half hours away - by air.
National groups like the Tea Party Express, which said it spent $500,000 promoting the Miller campaign, are why Miller won the nomination, McAdams said.
McAdams said he'll be running to represent Alaska, not to advance an Outside group's national anti-government agenda.
"That's what shot this guy onto the national stage," McAdams said. "I'll leave being the celebrity to him and just work for Alaska."
Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or email@example.com.
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