Alaska's Lisa Murkowski off to a rocky start as write-in candidate

Defeated in the GOP primary, Sen. Lisa Murkowski stumbles out of the gate as a write-in candidate. A recent poll shows support for Republican Joe Miller holding firm, and a campaign ad directed viewers to an anti-Murkowski website.

Michael Dinneen/AP
US. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R- Alaska, climbs to the stage in preparation to announce her write-in campaign on Sept. 17, in Anchorage, Alaska.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in campaign has always been a long shot. But it's now off to such a weak start that backers of Joe Miller – the "tea party" favorite who beat Senator Murkowski in Alaska’s Republican primary last month – are wondering if it could actually help Mr. Miller.

The most recent Rasmussen poll still has Miller winning the state, ahead of Democratic candidate Scott McAdams 42 percent to 25 percent. Even better news for Miller: Throwing Murkowski’s name into the mix (she took 27 percent) seems to have hurt Mr. McAdams more than Miller, suggesting that her candidacy is more appealing to Alaska’s Democrats than to Republicans.

And then there’s the matter of her name.

Concerning her write-in candidacy, Murkowski has joked, “You've got to learn how to spell my name, but that's not as tough as it sounds, and over the next 45 days we'll be teaching you how to spell it.”

Yet the first Internet ad released for her write-in campaign – titled “Vote Lisa M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I” – actually misspelled her name in the website it flashed at the end.

Instead of directing viewers to Murkowski’s website, it told them to visit – an anti-Murkowski site that tells voters to vote for Miller.

The Murkowski campaign quickly corrected the error – and noted that even misspelled ballots or those that say “Lisa M.” would be enough for Alaska’s Division of Elections to count the vote, as long as the voter's intent is clear.

Still, it was an inauspicious start to a fledgling campaign that has already struggled with how to attack Miller in a strongly Republican state without resorting to typical Democratic criticisms.

Moreover, the Republican establishment, which was staunchly behind Murkowski before the primary, has abandoned her. Senate minority whip John Kyl of Arizona told reporters that he was worried Murkowski’s campaign – and Christine O’Donnell’s primary win in Delaware – could endanger Republican hopes of taking over the Senate.

Jim DeMint, the South Carolina senator who is sympathetic to tea party issues and was a Miller proponent even before the primary, was harsher in his assessment of Murkowski's campaign.

"Rather than accepting defeat and working to unite Republicans behind Joe Miller, she has decided to put her own personal interests ahead of everything else," Senator DeMint wrote in an e-mail to supporters of his Senate Conservatives Fund. In it, he compares Murkowski with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who chose to run for Senate as an Independent rather than face Republican Marco Rubio in the primary, and to Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who switched to the Democratic Party when it looked impossible for him to win the Republican primary.

Miller, meanwhile, is charging that Murkowksi is breaking her word by running as a write-in candidate rather than supporting him. Murkowski defends herself by saying she was a victim of a "mudslinging, smear" campaign by the Tea Party Express.

The one thing Murkowski still has going for her: cash. She has more than $1 million in her campaign war chest, more than both of her opponents combined.

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