Joe Miller a no-show: Was Alaska Senate debate worth it?

Monday night's Alaska Senate debate was missing Joe Miller, the Republican nominee. That left write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski to field some tough questions.

Michael Dinneen/AP
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, speaks to reporters after filing her write-in candidacy with the state division of elections last Wednesday. Her opponent, 'tea party' favorite Joe Miller, didn't attend a Senate candidate debate Monday night.

Joe Miller didn’t show up to the Alaska Senate debate last night. So was the debate less than a real one, since it was missing the Republican Party candidate?

Not really, as it turns out. Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is running as a GOP write-in, and Democrat Scott McAdams went at each other pretty well. The debate – sponsored by the Alaska Dispatch, an online news magazine – featured lots of tough questions from moderators and audience members alike, eliciting some interesting answers. (More on that in a second.)

As for Mr. Miller, who beat Senator Murkowski in the Republican primary, “no one seemed to miss him,” wrote the Dispatch in its coverage of the event.

(Miller had not planned to be there – it isn’t as if he just didn’t show up. He had a long-standing scheduling conflict, said a spokesman.)

However, the "tea party" favorite Miller claims the Dispatch is covering him in an unfairly negative way. And on Sunday, an editor from the Dispatch was handcuffed by Miller’s security guards and detained for a half-hour. The guards alleged that the journalist had been too aggressive in his attempts to question the candidate.

As for the debate itself, Murkowski had to face two of the main issues that have dogged her write-in effort.

First of all: what does she feel about the fact that she inherited her seat in the first place? After her father Frank Murkowski was elected governor in 2002, he appointed her to his old Senate seat.

Murkowski said, in essence, it is what it is. The charge of nepotism will follow her forever, but she doesn’t “dwell on it.”

At least one outside conservative group is sponsoring ads in Alaska that depict Murkowski as a spoiled princess trying to hold on to her seat.

Another question Murkowski faced: how can a write-in possibly win? Sure, Murkowski is almost tied with Miller in the polls, but in the end the physical act of penciling in her name will be too much for voters; they’ll forget, or not bother. No Senator has been elected as a write-in in almost half a century.

The answer? Wristbands! Murkowski said that in today’s Internet age it’s easier than ever to rally supporters, and provide them with wristbands or other memory aids to carry with them into the voting booth.

McAdams, for his part, was asked why a Democratic presidential administration won’t open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, as many Alaskans want. He said that he himself supports such exploration, and that a Democrat would be better able to sway a Democratic president.

For all the weirdness in Alaska, at least it isn’t New York. They had a gubernatorial debate in New York last night that was very inclusive. Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino shared the stage with what the “New York Post” called “five wackadoo fringe candidates.”

These included a former madam and a representative from the "Rent Is Too Damn High Party."

Next time, maybe Cuomo and Paladino will look into that schedule-conflict thing.

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