Murkowski v. Miller v. McAdams?

09/08/2010 12:58 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

After Republican/Tea Party candidate Joe Miller's stunning defeat of Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska Senate primary, things have been all a-kilter.

Everyone on the political spectrum from far left to moderate right has been in a panic. The far right turned out in force for the primary, in part because of a ballot initiative about parental notification for abortion, in part because of a half million dollar Miller media blitz, and in part because of the leftover Palin supporters who were still in the mood for a little roguishness. And now we have Joe Miller, who wants to phase out Medicare and Social Security, who thinks that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape and incest, who thinks that unemployment is unconstitutional, and who thinks that the federal government should quit giving Alaska all that damned money. Federal dollars, like oil, make up one third of Alaska's economy, but Mr. Miller, with his eyes on the Tea Party prize, doesn't seem particularly concerned.

Remember that until recently, Lisa Murkowski had an approval rating of more than 70%. She, not Palin (whose approval ratings in Alaska have sagged below 50%), was Alaska's golden girl. And now she wanders in the political desert, and her supporters mourn.

So, what's a moderate to do? The answer was becoming clearer -- Scott McAdams, the Democratic candidate. With a pro-Alaskan agenda, and a level-headed soft-spoken bipartisan approach, he has been winning the hearts, votes, and donations of the newly converted. And it seemed likely, that there would be a very clear choice come November.

But hard-core Murkowski loyalists have found it difficult to swallow the fact that Joe Miller (who is basically Palin from Kansas with a beard and a law school degree) is going to wrest power from the establishment candidate, and topple the Murkowski dynasty. So, they've been scrambling for a way to keep their favored candidate in the race.

There are two ways to do this:

Option #1) For a candidate from another party to step down and give the spot to Murkowski

The party that's been at the center of all the speculation is the Libertarian Party of Alaska. Their candidate is David Haase. Now, mind you, Lisa's no Libertarian. She's been the sort of Republican, establishment, gimme the pork politician that Alaskans keep electing over and over. And it's not as easy as having Lisa just sweep into Libertarian Party headquarters and place the crown upon her own head like Napoleon. The Executive Committee of the party has to vote to let her, and the candidate has to be willing to step down.

You may remember that there has already been a meeting of the committee to discuss the prospect of letting Murkowski have the spot, which degraded rapidly.

The meeting was contentious at first. Two board members who were clearly on the Tea Party friendly Joe Miller side were combative before they realized that the other three board members agreed with them on the essentials. At a number of points the meeting even digressed into name-calling. The 'F' bomb was even tossed around a number of times.

They voted no, unanimously. If there's one thing you can say about Libertarians it's that they believe their ideology, and they're not usually willing to sell it out for politics. They are the hard-core philosophical purists who tend not to blow with the political wind. They never win, but they don't care. It's the principle of the thing.

The irony of all this is that Joe Miller is far more Libertarian than is Murkowski. And his bazillion dollar bankroll for advertising came from the Tea Party Express, founded by the bazillionaire Koch brothers, who are... Libertarians.

Option #2) To launch a write-in campaign

To have a valid write-in vote, the full name of the candidate must be spelled correctly to the letter. Merkowsky... Mercowski... Murcowsky... Muhrcouskie.... Merkhowskey... Nuff said.

So, with all of this, you might think that the easiest thing for Murkowski to do is to simply move on to a cushy job for four years and plan her next move. Or, if she really wanted to stick it to Sarah Palin, Joe Miller and the rest of the clan, she could go out on a political limb, endorse Scott McAdams, and practically ensure a win for him and a whole lot of egg on the faces of Miller and Palin.

The Big News to Nowhere

Instead, there have been mutterings. And the mutterings intensified today as rumors of a big article from the Associated Press from the Murkowski campaign swirled around political circles. Then, sure enough, an article was released. Breathless, Alaskans read that Lisa Murkowski says she's "still in the game."

She said that if this was "all about Lisa, certainly the easy thing for me to do would be to figure out what my next opportunity would be with my family and just settle in to a nice job."

"But what I'm looking at is my state and the future of my state for my kids. So, I have not made that determination that I'm going to give up. I'm not a quitter, never have been. And I'm still in this game," Murkowski said.

Zing! Murkowski - 1, Palin - 0. But despite the use of the "quitter" reference, getting voted out isn't really quitting. So now the question is, will she run as a Libertarian, or will she run as a write-in? Those are the choices.

She met briefly Tuesday with the Libertarian candidate David Haase after friends of hers, without her direction, she said, approached his party, asking if the Libertarians would consider a Murkowski candidacy.

She said she was prepared to meet with those friends Tuesday but was told that Haase and party Chairman Scott Kohlhaas also were invited. She said she was not "prepared nor interested" in talking with the Libertarian board, which she said Kohlhaas represents. However, she indicated she'd be willing to listen to what Haase had to say "but that's the extent of my interest at this point in time. So I did."

One can only imagine Lisa walking into a seemingly innocuous luncheon with friends and having Scott Kohlhass, and David Haase leap from behind the sofa in funny hats, yelling, "Surprise!"

While the Libertarians are welcome to look at her record, during eight years in the Senate and, before that, in the state Legislature, "I will not change who I am for any party," she said. "You take me or leave me, because I am who I am."

Remember that last week Joe Miller tweeted:

The link took readers to an article talking about Murkowski's potential of running as a Libertarian. There was lots of tapdancing, and blaming staffers, and we weren't quite sure whether he was calling Lisa Murkowski a prostitute, or the Libertarian Party prostitutes, but it appears Murkowski is not willing to compromise to get the slot.

Kohlhaas said the party has tried to stay open to having a dialogue but he described the odds of her appearing on the ballot as seemingly impossible.

So, I guess the Libertarians aren't prostitutes either. Although presumably, as Libertarians, you would think that they wouldn't find anything wrong with that.

Besides a third-party run, Murkowski also could seek a write-in candidacy, which she called high risk. Or, she could decide to stay out of the race.

At least Mercoski Murcouski Merkowskey Murkowski recognizes the unlikelihood of the write-in choice.

Murkowski described her options in continuing as "extraordinarily risky," and said she wouldn't even be thinking about going on if not for the showing of support and the risk she believes the state faces.

There are a host of issues at play, she said, from losing seniority in the Senate to the direction that both major party candidates are proposing taking the state that she believes are "causing Alaskans to sit up and pay attention and say, 'What just happened in this election and what are we left with?' And that's why they are coming back to me, saying, 'Is there any other opportunity that you would consider?' So that's kind of where I am today."

And that was that. So we know this:

  • She's not technically in the race right now
  • She's not out of the race
  • She's not a quitter
  • She is who she is
  • She will likely not run as a Libertarian
  • She will likely not run as a write-in
  • She doesn't know what she's doing
If you feel like you have no idea why this story came out, then you're not alone. The breathless across the state all said, "What does this mean?" And the answer is that we have no idea.

Adding to the confusion for a potential Murkowski run is that National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn and others have already endorsed Miller, and pledged national support for his general election campaign.

When interviewed by Fox News, Miller, stated that "fractures in the party would heal before November." The fact that Joe Miller and others actually staged an unsuccessful coup attempt to oust Alaska Republican Party Chair Randy Ruedrich two years ago makes it unlikely that the party will head into the general holding hands and singing kumbaya. Leadership hates Miller as much if not more than they hated Palin. We've seen all of this before - Rogue v. Party, Rogue v. Murkowski - it's all been done. Party unity is impossible because, in reality there are two parties - The Republican Party and the Tea Party.

"I'm certain that we're going to have a unified front in the fall election," Miller said Wednesday.

And I'm certain that tomorrow the elves will have done my laundry, and jellybeans will fall from the sky.

What Does This Mean?

So, what would a three-way race between a Republican turned Libertarian, a Republican turned Teapartier, and a Democrat look like?

It certainly adds a few complexities to the political landscape. There will be moderate Republicans who will suddenly find themselves voting Libertarian. There will be Democrats who decide to vote for Murkowski because they're terrified of Miller. There will be Democrats and moderate Republicans who vote for McAdams thinking that there will be a Republican vote split. There will be Tea Party voters coming out of the woodwork. There will be Murkowski supporters who will just vote Republican because they always do. There will be Murkowski supporters who will be disgusted and vote for McAdams.

But one thing is for sure, it will be a Miller-Murkowski bloodbath. If Murkowski jumps back in, she'll have to get down in the muck with Miller, because playing nice didn't work out too well for her the last time. Miller will continue to attack her because it worked. And in the meantime, Democrats can watch the knife fight, and woo reasonable people to the reasonable candidate, while Scott McAdams takes the high road the whole way to November.

Regardless of who ends up in the race, it will be up to McAdams to define his candidacy, up his name recognition, and tell people who he is. He's got about six weeks to do it.