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McAdams returns to quieter life in Sitka

Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010

SIKTA - Scott McAdams was back at work last week as head of the local Community Schools program.

After more than two months of unpaid leave, during which the former Sitka Mayor was a central figure in one of the most ballyhooed political races in state history, McAdams was back in his small, windowless office at Blatchley Middle School.

On Thursday afternoon, McAdams was catching up on his work and preparing to implement a new after-school program grant.

His top goal? To establish a top- notch youth basketball program.

McAdams, a Democrat who finished third behind Republicans Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski, said he woke up election day believing he had a legitimate chance to score what would have been a major political upset. But it was Murkowski who made history, becoming the first Senate candidate to mount a successful write-in campaign since 1954.

McAdams said he has no regrets.

"There was nothing we could have done differently," he said. "We did everything we could."

In the weeks before the vote, McAdams urged Alaskans to "vote their values, not their fears."

His pitch was aimed at Democrats and moderates who, he believed, were weighing a vote for Murkowski because they were concerned about Miller's extreme right-wing views.

"There was a lot of fear in that environment," McAdams said. "The polling we saw at the end had the race a lot closer."

After capturing the Democratic nomination for Senate over two even lesser-known candidates, McAdams emerged after the primary as a credible alternative to Miller, the tea party-backed winner of the Republican primary. Then Murkowski entered the race as a write-in candidate, and the political landscape changed once again.

McAdams managed 67,000 votes, or about 24 percent of the total.

McAdams' concern that Democrats and moderates would coalesce behind the better-known Murkowski seems to have been borne out. Ethan Berkowitz, the Democratic candidate for governor, tallied over 96,000 votes, meaning about 36,000 voters who picked Berkowitz did not vote for McAdams.

Miller tallied just under 91,000 votes (35 percent), while Murkowski won the race with 102,252 (about 40 percent), according to unofficial election results. McAdams credited the infusion of cash from Alaskans Standing Together, funded primarily by Native corporations (including Sealaska), for putting Murkowski over the top. In addition to advertising, the Native coalition had an effective, and perhaps unprecedented, field operation on the ground in rural Alaska, making Murkowski the overwhelming favorite in the villages.

Despite the loss, McAdams had high favorable ratings among Alaskan voters, many of whom had no idea who he was back in August. But even with his new name recognition throughout the state, McAdams said Thursday he does not have plans for a next move in politics.

"To be honest, I don't know," McAdams said. He added that Alaska was an "interesting state," where it can be tough to run as a Democrat.

Prior to the Senate race, McAdams was no stranger to electoral politics, having been elected twice to the School Board and once as mayor in Sitka's nonpartisan local elections.

It was last May, during the State Democratic Convention here, when he was convinced to jump into the Senate race after prodding from state Democratic officials.

At the time, it was considered an unwinnable race, with Murkowski expected to sail through her own party primary and vanquish whoever the Democrats trotted out as a challenger.

But everything changed for McAdams on primary night, Aug. 24, when it became apparent that Joe Miller, backed by the Tea Party Express and former Gov. Sarah Palin, had upset Murkowski. Suddenly the race for Senate was in play.

McAdams was on a plane to Anchorage the next morning. He took a leave from his job at Community Schools, and became a full-time candidate.

"This campaign started from nothing and ramped up into a major organization in about two weeks," McAdams said.

McAdams had raised less than $10,000 in the months that led up to the primary. But during the general election season he brought in more than $1 million in contributions. He worked 16-hour days during September and October, often getting up around 5:30 a.m. to make fundraising calls to the East Coast.

He rose steadily in the polls as voters got to know him. But, using a sports analogy, McAdams said the clock ran out too soon for him to make greater strides toward the finish line.

"It was 40-0 and the second-string quarterback started throwing touchdowns," McAdams said, adding that he tried to focus on issues, only to find the statewide media was often more concerned with the daily sniping between Miller and Murkowski.

McAdams said he came away from the campaign with concerns about "what is news and what makes news" in the 24-hour media cycle.

Back in Sitka now, McAdams will watch from afar as Murkowski returns to Washington, D.C., for a second full term. She won this race by running in the middle, and McAdams said he hoped the incumbent would distance herself from the Republican leadership and work to protect Alaska's interests.



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