As every aging mousekeeter knows, on the Mickey Mouse Club one day a week was Anything Can Happen Day. Insofar as the contest between Joe Miller, Lisa Murkowski, and Scott McAdams for election to the United States Senate is concerned, this Tuesday is Anything Can Happen Day in Alaska. Because two days out the outcome of the election remains a muddle.
On August 24th Tea Party avatar Joe Miller beat Lisa Murkowski, Alaska's incumbent Republican Senator, fair and square in the Republican primary election. Four days before the election Lisa publicly promised the members of the Soldotna and Kenai Chambers of Commerce that she would abide by that result. But when she lost she said her word was no good and on September 17th announced that she would compete in the general election as a write-in candidate.
Since then, if Joe Miller had had the discipline to stay on message - the message being "Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi don't care that the country is bankrupt, but I do" - today he would be polling way over 40 percent and he would have the general election in the bag no matter what Lisa did. But Joe could not stay on message.
By September Joe was spending political capital trying to convince voters that he did not want to destroy social security, even though he previously had said that he wanted to "privatize" it, which is the same thing. The issue has lingered, and Joe has had to put his father, Rex, on the radio to vouch that Rex knows his boy and the boy isn't going to pull the social security safety net out from under mom and dad. Then it turned out that when he had owned farm land in Kansas, Joe had been on the dole for $7,000 worth of farm subsides and in Alaska his children had been on the dole for government-funded health care, both the kind of programs that Joe has vowed to put a stop to when he becomes a Senator. And then it turned out that when he had been a magistrate Joe had hired and laid off and hired and laid off his wife from a job as his assistant in order to facilitate her ability to collect unemployment insurance, a program Joe has said that Congress has no constitutional authority to help the states fund.
Even with all that, on September 21st Rasmussen Reports had Joe polling at 42 percent, high enough to have easily won the election.
But like waves crashing onto the beach, week after week the blunders - all self-inflicted - continued.
While on a trip to Washington, D.C., to rattle his fund-raising cup along K Street, Joe posted a tweet (which he later blamed on a campaign volunteer) in which he told his fans that as long as he was in town he was going to go house-hunting and pick out some furniture for his new office. Then he volunteered that he thought it would be a terrific idea to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which requires Senators to be selected in elections like the one in which he is participating rather than by state legislatures.
All that took its toll and by mid-October Joe was polling at 35 percent, rather than at the 42 percent he had been.
Then stupidity morphed into self-immolation.
On October 17 after a "Meet Joe and Ask Him a Question" event at an Anchorage junior high school two off-duty soldiers from Fort Richardson who were members of the security team that Joe travels with "arrested" and then handcuffed Tony Hopfinger, the editor of Alaska Dispatch, Alaska's version of Huffington Post, because Tony had the temerity to ask Joe why he had left his job as a part time attorney for the Fairbanks Northstar Borough. Joe later claimed that Tony had been trespassing at a private event and had refused to leave when asked in order to get himself arrested as a "publicity stunt;" all of which, since I was there, I can vouch was prevaricating nonsense.
Tony Hopfinger's hand-cuffing became a national news story that got Tony in the New York Times and required Joe to go on CNN to try to spin the incident away.
Then after having spent two months keeping speculation about the circumstances about which Tony Hopfinger had asked him an ongoing story in the Alaska news cycle, a week before the election Joe lost the lawsuit that Alaska Dispatch and other Alaska news organizations had filed to obtain Joe's employment records from the Fairbanks North Star Borough. When the records were released they revealed that in 2008 when his co-workers were at lunch Joe used their computers for partisan political purposes in order to cheat on a poll the Alaska Republican Party was conducting, and then, when he got caught, he lied to his supervisor about having done so.
My feel for it around Anchorage is that the release of the employment records, which if Joe had voluntarily released them two months ago now would be stale news, has done Joe serious damage. The Cadet Honor Code to which Joe was subject when he attended West Point is pretty simple. What it says is: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." If Joe had done at West Point what he did at the North Star Borough he would have been expelled. But Joe doesn't think that the same mendacious behavior disqualifies him from serving in the United States Senate? That's enough to make even a conservative Republican wonder.
Only the election results can tell us how many conservative Republicans who were going to vote for Joe Miller, not because they are right-of-wing-nut Tea Baggers, but because Joe was their party's fairly elected nominee, now are taking a second look at Joe and don't like what they see. But what can be said for certain is that Joe's failure to stay on message - a dereliction for which he has no one but himself to blame - has provided Lisa Murkowski an opportunity to win the general election that she did not have at the time she announced her write-in candidacy.
The two most recent and most credible polls, one by Mark Hellenthal the other by David Dittman, both journeyman Alaska pollsters, show that Joe Miller is now polling at 29.1 percent and 27 percent respectively. My hunch is that those numbers are low because they are 4 to 5 percentage points below Joe's hard core right-of-Republican base, which Mark Hellenthal and David Dittman both underestimated in the polling they conducted prior to the Republican primary election.
To see how Joe's base is feeling, last Thursday night I attended a Joe Miller pep rally at the Anchorage convention center that Janine Turner, a D list actress who fifteen years ago starred in the television series Northern Exposure hosted, and Sarah Palin headlined. It was an ice rain drizzling evening, so the weather suppressed the crowd. But the 300 to 400 American flag-waving, Sarah-worshiping attendees were there to back their boy. And when Sarah took the stage her infectious "Alaska don't you love your freedom!" bonhomie and her take-no-prisoners trashing of Lisa Murkowski without mentioning her by name had the crowd stomping and clapping. So if over the next two days Sarah continues to help Joe reinvigorate his (and her) base, Joe still has a chance to finish with 34 or 35 percent of the vote. Which is enough to win.
Which brings me to the undecided Democratic and center-left independent voters who, if David Dittman's numbers are correct, may decide the election.
According to Dittman, at present the vote spread is: Joe Miller, 27 percent; Lisa Murkowski, 37 percent, Scott McAdams, 23 percent, undecided voters 13 percent.
Who are the undecided voters?
Some are conservative Republicans and center-right independents who Joe Miller has persuaded to take a second look at Joe Miller. If on Tuesday they decide that they can't vote for Joe, they've never liked Lisa, and they are not going to vote for Scott McAdams, the Democratic candidate who has spent the past two months positioning himself as the Hubert Humphrey of the Northland, which doesn't wash with voters who are not members of the activist Democratic base, and which is why most of the polls have put McAdams exactly where David Dittman now has him.
Many other undecided voters are Democrats and center-left independents who (like me) are caught between two rotten choices. Vote for Scott McAdams who can't win. Or vote for Lisa Murkowski in order to try to save Alaska from Joe Miller, knowing when we do so that we are helping to send back into the Senate Republican caucus a woman who, because Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican Minority Leader, told her to, voted against the confirmations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan as Justices of the United States Supreme Court, and, because Mitch McConnell told her to, joined almost every Republican filibuster of almost every legislative initiative that Barack Obama sent to Congress during the first two years of his presidency.
After giving that "I'm damned if I do, I'm damned if don't" conundrum considerable thought, the way I come out on it is that undecided Democratic and center-left independent voters have to decide whether they are Alaska patriots or national patriots.
For an Alaska patriot the decision is easy. He or she should vote for Lisa Murkowski. Because an Alaska patriot would be a dumbbell to give up the seat on the Senate Committee on Appropriations that Alaska has held since 1973 and the seat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that Alaska has held since statehood (when it was called the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs). Lisa holds both seats, and if she is reelected she will continue to hold them.
But if an undecided Democratic or center-left independent voter is a national patriot, then that voter should vote for Scott McAdams, knowing when he or she does so that casting that vote may help elect Joe Miller. Because having Joe Miller in the Senate is a better result for the nation than reelecting the same old Lisa.
The 2010 presidential election begins on Wednesday. Last week Mitch McConnell told the National Journal that over the next two years "the single most important thing [I and the other members of the Senate Republican caucus] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Not do what's right for the nation. Do what they can to ensure that the President of the United States fails.
I have decided that I am a national patriot. So if that is Lisa's agenda, then I am voting for Scott McAdams. Because having Joe Miller wearing a dunce cap on his head banging around the Senate with Jims DeMint and Inhofe and Tom Coburn (and potentially with Sharon Angle) is a better result for Barack Obama and the nation than reelecting Lisa who, with her veneer of moderation and seemingly thoughtful sensibility, will cast the same votes of national (as opposed to Alaska) importance that Joe Miller will cast.
So if Lisa wants my vote, there is only one way she is going to get it. And that is if she convinces me that from here on out her tenure in the Senate is going to be different than it has been for the past eight years.
Unfortunately, in her Why Alaskans Should Vote for Me essay that the Anchorage Daily News published this morning Lisa used her column inches to pitch her candidacy to Alaska patriots, rather than to national patriots to whom, in passing, she simply self-servingly vouched that she is "not afraid to reach across the aisle when it's in the best interest of our state." You can read it for yourself at http://www.adn.com/2010/10/29/1527560/alaska-needs-senator-with-seniority.html.
What that signals to me is that Lisa still doesn't get it, even though for the past two weeks, including again just yesterday morning, I and others have repeatedly explained to Lisa's campaign managers what her problem is with undecided Democratic and center-left independent voters who consider themselves national, as opposed to Alaska, patriots and who are willing to consider voting for Lisa if she will give them a reason to do so. Because the question is not whether Lisa now is prepared "to reach across the aisle when it's in the best interest of our state," it's whether Lisa now is prepared to reach across the aisle when it's in the best interest of our nation.
So Lisa blew it in the Anchorage Daily News. And she now has less than two days left to convince undecided Democratic and center-left independent voters who are national patriots that if we help send her back to the Senate, henceforth there will be a new Lisa who, while she may rejoin the Senate Republican caucus, will stop voting however Mitch McConnell tells her to.
Speaking only for myself, two days out is way too late in the game simply for rhetorical assurance. If Lisa wants my vote I need a proof of life. To that end, a reasonable first step in the proper direction would be for Lisa to publicly announce that, however the election turns out, when she returns to the Senate for the lame duck session, she will break with Mitch McConnell and give Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader, the sixtieth vote he needs, and which Lisa refused to give him in September, to end the Republican filibuster against the Disclosure Act, whose enactment will moderate Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the decision of the Roberts United States Supreme Court that has allowed multinational corporations and crank billionaires like the Koch brothers to buy the 2010 congressional elections without disclosing to the Federal Election Commission (and the public) that they are doing so.
I have no expectation that Lisa will provide that proof of life. So my guess is that on Tuesday I will vote for Scott McAdams. Joe Miller winning will be a disaster for Alaska. But for Barack Obama and the nation, Joe's arrival in the Senate will be a gift from the benevolent god in which I do not believe. So I will be happy to have helped out.