If Sen. Lisa Murkowski emerges as the victor in when the Alaska Senate race results are fully tallied – as seems increasingly likely – she will have pulled off a bigger upset than her main opponent, Republican Joe Miller, did when he defeated her in the GOP primary two months ago.
She would become the first person elected to the Senate as a write-in candidate since Strom Thurmond in 1954 – the only time it’s been done.
As of Wednesday afternoon, “write-in” had 41 percent of the vote to Mr. Miller’s 34 percent (Democrat Scott McAdams had 24 percent) – presumably a big enough cushion to stave off legal challenges, though it will take a long time for the vote to be certified and write-in ballots tabulated. A final ruling may not happen for weeks.
"We've got to find out who those write-in ballots are for," Miller campaign manager Robert Campbell said, explaining why they weren’t yet conceding victory. "I'm sure there are going to be two or three dozen votes for Spider-Man.”
By all measures, Murkowski’s apparent showing is a remarkable achievement. Past Alaska candidates who have attempted write-in campaigns have failed.
And all this despite the fact that right after Murkowski launched her write-in campaign, it seemed dead in the water: She was down in the polls, seemed to take more votes from the Democratic candidate than she did from Miller, and even launched an ad focusing on how to spell her name actually misspelled it.
But then, they didn’t. And Murkowski’s campaign recovered, and continued to do better in the polls.
At the same time, Miller has struggled.
First, it emerged that he had been disciplined inappropriate use of computers for political purposes while he was employed by the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Then he had a local journalist handcuffed by his private security guards when he tried to question Miller too persistently. He refused to answer any media questions about his personal or professional background, and his disapproval ratings climbed steadily upward.
At the same time, dislike of Miller seemed to convince many Alaskan Democrats to vote for Murkowski, as opposed to Scott McAdams, the Democratic candidate, as the best chance to keep him out of office.
A victory for Murkowski will also be seen as a defeat for Sarah Palin on her home turf. As much as any other candidate, Miller owed his primary victory to Ms. Palin, and was considered “her” candidate by countless observers. She campaigned hard for him, and was heavily critical of Murkowski, who she called “the entitlement candidate” and referred to as an “out-of-touch liberal.”
And whoever ultimately emerges as the winner will represent a divided state party. It’s likely to be a long time before the tea-partyers and the Murkowski supporters within Alaska’s GOP forgive each other after such a bitter fight.