Lisa Murkowski write-in bid for Alaska Senate: Why would she?

Lisa Murkowski is set to say Friday whether she'll vie to keep her Senate seat by running a write-in campaign. The GOP establishment and 'tea party' activists seem of one mind about this: Don't do it.

Bill Roth/The Anchorage Daily News/AP
Sen. Lisa Murkowski gave a concession speech at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage on Aug. 31. On Thursday, Murkowski announced that she’ll announce on Friday whether she'll run for her Alaska Senate seat as a write-in candidate in the general election.

Perhaps Lisa Murkowski is alive after all, politically speaking.

On Thursday, GOP Senator Murkowski announced that she’ll announce on Friday whether she'll run for her Alaska Senate seat as a write-in candidate in the general election.

The first question this brings to mind is, what’s with all the pre-announcing? Weeks ago, late-night comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart also announced that they would have an announcement about their political futures at some future point. Then, on Thursday night they finally revealed they would have a rally smack-down on the Mall in Washington on Oct. 30, with Colbert’s “Keep Fear Alive” march facing off with Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity.”

So obviously the multitiered announcement thing is a trend.

Second, why would Murkowski do this? She lost to Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller in Alaska’s GOP Senate primary, which means she can’t run as the official Republican candidate. She’ll be opposed by both the state and national Republican hierarchies. As a write-in candidate, she might split the state’s GOP vote with Mr. Miller, giving Democratic candidate Scott McAdams more of a chance to win than he otherwise might have.

Miller also says he has been told by the Republican Senate leadership in Washington that Murkowski would be stripped of her seniority and committee assignments if she runs, and wins, as an independent. If this is true, it would mean she cannot argue that she is better positioned to direct federal dollars to the state.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has already pledged more than $200,000 to help Miller in the general election, and its leaders are unhappy that Murkowski is not going quietly into the political night.

“If Senator Murkowski is truly committed to doing ‘what is right’ for her state, then we hope that she will step forward and fully endorse Joe Miller’s candidacy,” said the NRSC Thursday in a statement.

Thus, this is one 2010 Senate race where the Republican establishment in D.C. and "tea party" activists out in the field are fully together. The Tea Party Express spent more than $600,000 to support Miller in his primary, and it has vowed to spend that amount, or more, to beat back any Murkowski write-in candidacy in the general election.

So, yes, Murkowski faces an uphill road if she wants to try to hold on to her job via the write-in route. No senator has won election that way since South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond managed it in 1954. Why bother to try?

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves: Murkowski might say she’s thought it over and is going to work for Miller in the fall (though as of Friday her supporters were receiving invitations to a “campaign kickoff,” according to the Anchorage Daily News). But it could be that family pride drives her to try to stay in the race. After all, her father, Frank Murkowski, held the seat for 20 years, until he was elected governor and appointed his daughter to take his place. That’s a legacy that might be hard to give up.

Plus, Murkowski the younger inherited a political organization of donors and aides put together by dad. That organization itself could be pushing her to run.

And, as she says, it could be a matter of being swayed by individual voters. Since losing the primary on Aug. 24, she has been contacted by many state voters, from all walks of life, she says.

“If I had not heard this call from Alaskans, I would not be deliberating as I am,” she has said.

She has received one bit of good news in recent days. Voters would have to physically write in her name on the ballot for it to count, but they would not have to spell it correctly, according to Alaska’s state board of elections.

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