Murkowski vows strong finish

Posted: Friday, October 29, 2010

ANCHORAGE - This isn't the same Lisa Murkowski of two months ago who faced Alaskans humbled, defeated by a political upstart that many failed to take seriously at first.

Though the Republican argues the same points she made during her failed primary run against Joe Miller - the benefits that her seniority in the U.S. Senate can bring to Alaska, her willingness to act as a voice for all, not just conservatives - her tone is far different.

Though she remains her wonkish self - prone to long-winded, nuanced statements - she's much more intense, almost defiant, rallying supporters now with the fervor of a born-again believer.

She needs this if she's to make good on her campaign mantra to make history as a write-in candidate.

No U.S. Senate candidate has done it since 1954. But few have had the attributes of Murkowski - a household name, a fat warchest, deep-pocketed outside supporters. Write-in status is typically the domain of a fringe or losing candidate, someone with no home. Murkowski arguably fits that description, too, as the onetime Senate elite who lost support within the GOP establishment as soon as she conceded the race to Miller.

"Can. We. DO. It?" she recently asked a crowd here, her voice clear, jubiliant, the response loud, cheering. Chants of "Win, Lisa, Win!" soon followed.

A win would serve as sweet vindication for Murkowski, who voluntarily resigned her leadership role within the Republican conference to mount her outside run; a loss could severely hamper her future political ambitions, if not end her political career.

She knows all this, but insists it's not something she's thinking about. She says she entered the race because Alaskans urged - in some cases, begged - her to do so, to offer them an alternative between Miller's "extreme" views and the "inexperience" of Democrat Scott McAdams, a former longtime school board member and Sitka mayor.

If anything, she says she's more convinced than ever that she did the right thing, and that she's capable of pulling off her own upset.

"I feel (the energy) from every end of the state and all the points in between," she said.

She faces a big challenge not only in taking on Miller and McAdams but also in educating voters about the write-in process.

She spent much of her campaign focused on the latter, running ads and handing out literature spelling out the how-tos. She's even distributed wristbands bearing a filled-in oval and her name that election officials say voters can discreetly bring with them into the voting booth.

Along the way, she also engaged in a tit-for-tat with Miller, making good on her promise not to let any claim about her record go unanswered. She's also weighed in on his campaign's troubles, including disclosures that his family received government benefits in the past and records that show he admitted lying about improperly using government computers while a part-time borough attorney.

In debates, some of her harshest exchanges have come with Miller, with Murkowski questioning his character and fitness to serve, drawing jeers during one forum from the crowd. Murkowski faced questions of her own about a 2006 land purchased that critics called a sweetheart deal. Murkowski has said she thought she bought land for its fair value and later sold it back, announcing her intentions to do so after a complaint was filed with the Senate ethics committee.

Her spokesman said the issue has been widely reported on, that no wrongdoing was found and there was no "attempted coverup."

"You tell me what connection (there is), what bearing this has on what Joe did," spokesman Steve Wackowski said. "Are you kidding me?"

Pollster Ivan Moore says Murkowski has no choice but to go after Miller. While Miller has hard core supporters, he's also seeking to woo more Republicans and to sway undecideds or independents - constituencies Murkowski is also competing for. Where Moore questions Murkowski's strategy is in her going after McAdams, with whom she's competing for on-the-fence Democrats and independents.

Some Democrats "have a certain amount of ideological heartburn about voting for Lisa but they're contemplating it," he said. Attacking the Democratic nominee is counterproductive, he argues, because it reminds the rank-and-file that she's indeed a Republican and not one of them - and that could work against her.

McAdams says Murkowski is dangerously conservative and bound to veer farther right if she's returned to Washington. Miller paints her as too liberal. She claims she's right in the middle, deciding issues as they come to her. That's a comfort to some voters and frustration to others looking for greater clues to how she'll vote if she's re-elected.

In recent years, she's voted against some key pieces of the Obama administration's agenda, including the federal health care overhaul. She said it doesn't succeed in reducing costs or improving accessbility and favors repealing it or replacing what she considers the most egregious provisions.

She helped lead an unsuccessful charge against allowing the Environmental Protection Agency to issue regulations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saying it encroached on lawmakers' powers. She voted against extending unemployment benefits, citing the cost in the face of the rising federal deficit. She supported the Wall Street bailout but said she regrets that vote, given what she knows now.

Republican Joe Geldhof of Juneau said there are "solid reasons" either to vote for or against her. "Thing is," he said, "she listens," and he plans to vote for her.

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