Alaska’s cold war heads to a boiling finish.
The 2.4 miles that separate the island of Big Diomede and Little Diomede use to be among the most tension-filled in not only Alaska but the world. With Big Diomede part of Russian territory and Little Diomede part of the United States, the small space between Bering Strait islands was called the “Ice Curtain” and one of the frigid locations of the Cold War.
In the wake of Tuesday’s Senate primary, the Diomede Islands may need a new nickname.
The Murkowski/Palin spat, always tense since Palin’s upset victory over then-Governor Frank Murkowski in the 2006 Republican primary, didn’t seem like it could develop into any more of a blood feud short of Lisa Murkowski planting a Fredoesque kiss on the former VP nominee. But despite holding a nearly $1.6 million cash on hand advantage and a seemingly insurmountable polling lead, Sen. Lisa Murkowski has seen herself driven from the Republican nomination, possibly Washington, and probably the GOP. In the process, what was suppose to be a campaign as desolate in terms of interest as Alaska’s frozen tundra has turned into the punditry’s race du jour.
The Palin proxy for this would-be Alaskan dynastic rematch, Joe Miller, has already won the battle of expectations. The closet any poll got to Tuesday’s actual result was an Anchorage Daily News poll that still put the Tea Party favorite 11 points behind. And Miller could still lose as thousands of absentee ballots are left to be counted, to say nothing of a likely recount – which the NRSC appears already to be planning for as it sends lawyers north for Murkowski.
Despite such advantages of incumbency, the math remains firmly in Miller’s favor:
5801 absentee ballots were mailed out to Alaskans requesting the Republican absentee ballot….
In order to win the Republican Senate primary a candidate must have at least 49,094 votes (50% plus 1).
Joe Miller currently has 47,027 votes. He needs 2067 out of the available 5801 (36%) possible absentee votes to win.
Lisa Murkowski currently has 45359 votes. She needs 3735 out of the available 5801 (64%) possible absentee votes to win.
The math could look much better – if Murkowski ran as a third-party candidate. Even as the NRSC attempts to salvage Murkowski’s primary campaign, Murkowski is at least privately flirting with continuing her re-election effort under another party’s banner. This isn’t exactly a Joe Lieberman scenario. While Lieberman availed himself of Connecticut’s odd ballot access laws to file as an independent merely days after losing the Democrat primary, Murkowski would have to convince another party’s nominee to step aside and be nominated in their place.
The precedent has already been set in Alaskan political history. Former Republican Governor Wally Hickel lost the 1990 primary only to win the general election as the Alaskan Independence Party’s candidate. Unfortunately for Murkowski, the precedent isn’t quite precise for her. Hickel, a Governor in the 1960s and Secretary of the Interior under Nixon, was most certainly the more conservative candidate in his 1990 primary defeat. In contrast, Murkowski’s abortion record and last minute commentary in opposition to repealing Obamacare (see below) put her firmly in the moderate camp and squarely at odds with Alaskan conservatives.
If Murkowski does make a third-party bid, the welcome mat has already been extended by the state’s Libertarian Party. While ideologically speaking Murkowski and the Libertarians have about as much in common as Herve Villechaize and Manute Bol, a marriage of political convenience would spare Murkowski the baggage of the secessionist AIP (although it didn’t stop Hickel) and give the Libertarians something as unbelievable as a virgin in a whorehouse – a victory.
Lacking money, name ID with average Alaskan voters, and probably a general election campaign infrastructure, Joe Miller would need an even greater infusion of aid from the Tea Party Express than the $500,000 they spent. With Democrat Scott McAdams reporting only $4,000 cash on hand at the beginning of the month, Murkowski could easily pull Democratic voters into her camp – especially as both sides share the goal of rebuking Sarah Palin. No, Murkowski isn’t likely to pull an Arlen Specter and join the Democrat’s caucus (her 70% lifetime ACU rating is one reason), but she could turn a general election into a two-way race for all intents and purposes.
There’s little doubt that the Senate could benefit from more average Joe Millers than another Murkowski. Unfortunately, Murkowski it seems want to return to Washington no matter how many bridges she burns in the process. One can only hope that if Murkowski does cross party lines, it’s a bridge to nowhere.