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Daddy's Girl Versus Sarah's Boy: What's an Alaska Democrat to Do?

10/12/2010 02:55 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Alaska Senate election is only three weeks away. But a multitudinous number of Alaska Democrats, including me, whose votes may decide the outcome remain flummoxed, befuddled, uncertain. Should they remain allegiant to their party and vote for Scott McAdams, the Democratic candidate? Or should they abandon McAdams and write in incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski to try to save Alaska and the nation from Tea Party poster boy and Sarah Palin spawn Joe Miller, the Republican candidate?

How a Democrat should vote is a conundrum.

People who know him tell me that Scott McAdams, who describes himself as a big guy from Sitka, a small town on an island in southeast Alaska where he serves as the part time mayor, is a nice guy. But until Joe Miller upset Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska Republican primary election, not even Scott McAdams took Scott McAdams's candidacy seriously, since during the primary campaign he raised next to no money, made a few telephone calls, and let it go at that.

Since the primary election enough campaign contributions have come in to allow Scott McAdams to begin traveling around the state. At each stop, after mouthing the predictable Democratic platitudes, McAdams argues to his audience that the reason he is qualified to represent Alaska in the United States Senate is that he is not Joe Miller, a right-of-wing-nut ideologue who believes that Alaska should get off the federal dole. McAdams not only disagrees, but he is promising that, if he is elected, when he gets to the Senate he will fight to shove into as many appropriations bills as he can as many earmarks as he can in order to see that the torrent of federal dollars that has been flowing into Alaska since 1973 when former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens first joined the Senate Appropriations Committee keep flowing.

The trouble with that rationale for McAdams's candidacy is that in 2008 when Alaska voters turned Ted Stevens out of office after forty years in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski inherited Ted's seat on the Appropriations Committee. Since if he is elected there is zero chance that Scott McAdams will be appointed to a seat on the Committee, if keeping earmarked appropriations flowing is the criterion about which they most care, Democratic voters would be knuckleheads to vote for McAdams, rather than for Lisa.

There's also the problem that McAdams can't win.

With the exception of the election contest between Lisa Murkowski and former Alaska Democratic Governor Tony Knowles that Lisa won in 2004, for a generation Senate elections in Alaska have not been competitive. (Since Ted Stevens was a convicted felon at the time, the 2008 election in which Mark Begich narrowly defeated Ted doesn't count as competitive.) But Alaska gubernatorial elections have been competitive. So their vote counts are instructive.

In 1998 Tony Knowles won 51.2 percent of the vote when he defeated John Lindauer, the Republican candidate. But that was a special situation because the Alaska press did its job and educated the electorate that Lindauer was a pathological liar whose campaign had been financed illegally with $1 million that Lindauer said his wife, who is independently wealthy, gave to him, but which may have come from the Chicago mob. More representative are the 1994, 2002, and 2006 Alaska gubernatorial elections in which Democratic candidates won 41, 40.7, and 40.9 percent of the vote.

Last week at a campaign event I attended Scott McAdams predicted that on November 3 he will receive 40 percent of the vote. If he does, in a three-way race with Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski, McAdams can win.

Given the 1994, 2002, and 2006 gubernatorial election vote counts, Scott McAdams winning 40 percent of the vote does not appear, on the face of it, to be an unrealistic possibility. But there are two problems.

The first problem is that, because they both had been involved for decades in Alaska politics, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tony Knowles and former Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmer had massive statewide name recognition and, as candidates, considerable gravitas, particularly among independent and nonpartisan voters who today are 52 percent of the Alaska electorate. Scott McAdams has neither.

The second problem is that to get to 40 percent Tony Knowles and Fran Ulmer needed massive support from Alaska Native voters, and particularly from Alaska Native voters who live in one of the more than two hundred small villages that are scattered around the bush. But the members of the board of directors of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), the state's most politically influential Native organization, begged Lisa to run as a write-in candidate because they are terrified that if he is elected Joe Miller will do what he has said he will do and end the appropriation earmarks on which the economy of rural Alaska, such as it is, depends.

Byron Mallott, a former president of AFN and one of the most well-known Native leaders in the state, is a co-chair of Lisa's write-in campaign. Albert Kookesh, the co-chair of the AFN board of directors, has publicly predicted that "the Alaska Native community will be there for her" because "we owe her so much." And this week at its annual convention in Fairbanks, AFN will vote on an official endorsement.

But even if the AFN convention delegates do not officially endorse Lisa, last week eleven of the twelve regional corporations that control much of the land and money Alaska Natives were given when Congress settled their aboriginal land claims created Alaskans Standing Together, a political action committee through which the corporations have announced they will wash $1 million that will be spent on television and radio commercials and newspaper advertisements that will tout Lisa's write-in candidacy. In addition, the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood in southeast Alaska, and the Doyon regional corporation in the Alaska interior have endorsed Lisa.

What all of that means is that even though Scott McAdams has been doing his best to pander to Alaska Natives on tribal sovereignty, Native subsistence rights, earmarks, and other hot button issues of their concern, McAdams and Lisa Murkowski will split the Native vote. And Lisa may do even better than that.

For Scott McAdams, what his lack of name recognition and gravitas and the loss of a large part of the Native vote means is that on November 3, rather than 40 percent of the vote, he will be lucky to win 30 percent; an estimate that is consistent with the 31 percent that a friend working in the McAdams campaign told me is what a recent poll that the campaign has not released publicly says is the present number. And with no better than 30 percent of the vote, McAdams loses.

If that is how the McAdams candidacy is going to play out, then for Alaska Democrats who believe that Joe Miller is a dangerous ideologue who must be defeated, a vote for Scott McAdams is a wasted vote.

But does that mean that they should abandon McAdams and vote for Lisa as Byron Mallott, who is a Democrat, has decided to do? Insofar as I am concerned that depends on Lisa.

Lisa Murkowski is a smart, hardworking, and thoroughly decent woman who during the two terms she served in the Alaska House of Representatives risked her seat in her conservative Republican election district by casting a pro-choice vote. And she worked with Democrats to fashion a bipartisan solution to the State of Alaska's coming fiscal crisis that involved reinstating the state income tax and tapping the Alaska Permanent Fund, both of which are anathema to conservative Republicans.

But over the eight years since her father, then Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski, had the brazen temerity to appoint her to succeed him in the United States Senate, Lisa has morphed from the bipartisan centrist into a hard right conservative. After tabulating her votes, the American Conservative Union has given Lisa a 70.2 percent lifetime rating. But for Alaska Democrats, in recent years her voting record, which the McAdams campaign has posted on http://www.lisavotes. com, has been worse than that.

In 2009 her colleagues in the Senate Republican caucus rewarded Lisa for her dependability by appointing her vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference, the fifth highest office in the Senate Republican leadership hierarchy. In that position, for the past two years Lisa has functioned as Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Stepford wife, voting 90 percent of the time however Mitch told her to vote, and standing silently behind Mitch at televised press conferences gazing adoringly at her man.

So if she "makes history" as a write-in candidate and defeats Joe Miller what Lisa intends to do when she returns to the Senate is resume signing on to every filibuster Mitch McConnell orders and casting votes like the no votes she cast against the confirmations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan as Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, then I will throw away my vote on Scott McAdams.

While I continue to ponder whether I will or not, with the election three weeks away decisions are starting to get made, such as the decision a friend who is a Democrat described in an email in which she several days ago reported that

I have finally decided who to vote for. I have sort of been keeping an open mind about Lisa, thinking that she's a contender for my vote because of being the best of the bad choices. But then I remembered her pandering to the hate-mongers and fear-mongers at her god-awful health care "town meeting" two summers ago. I can forgive her voting the wrong way on some issues, but I can't forgive her going down the low road. In short, I will cast my vote for McAdams. Call me idealistic if you must, but a person has to draw the line somewhere.

I am attracted to that logic. But Lisa can still (maybe) get my vote. The way for her to do so is to convince me that if I abandon Scott McAdams and help her return to the Senate, when she gets there the Stepford wife will get a divorce.

When Lisa announced her write-in candidacy Mitch McConnell and the other members of the Senate Republican caucus of which she was a leader responded to her refusal to support Joe Miller by disowning her. So announcing prior to the election that, if Alaska Democratic voters help return her to the Senate, in return, when she gets there she finally will be her own person and vote the way she knows she should vote rather than the way Karl Rove tells Mitch McConnell to tell her to vote should not be all that hard. It also would be the right thing to do for the nation, which is in serious trouble and desperate for real bipartisanship.

Unfortunately, the signal Lisa sent last Thursday during a debate the Alaska Native Professional Association sponsored and in which she participated with Scott McAdams and Joe Miller was not encouraging. When a member of the audience asked what she will do if Alaska voters return her to the Senate, Lisa proudly responded: "I am a Republican. I have been a Republican since I was eighteen. I am running as a write-in candidate as a Republican. When I return to the United States Senate in January I will return with a full eight years of seniority. I will still be the most senior member on the Energy Committee. I will still be on the Appropriations Committee."

No hint of a Stepford wife divorce. No mention that she will retain her seniority and those committee assignments only if Mitch McConnell and the other members of the Republican caucus allow her to do so. No mention that they will allow her to do so only if she agrees to vote as the caucus, rather than her conscience or her sense of what is best for the nation, tells her to.

Three weeks out for Alaska Democrats the situation stands. Waste a vote on Scott McAdams. Try to defeat Joe Miller by voting to help Lisa Murkowski rejoin a Senate Republican caucus that Mitch McConnell will lead and, given its members' behavior throughout the 111th Congress, she should be ashamed to have been a member, much less a leader, of.

Some choice. Some election.