Murkowski Defies GOP, Mounts Write-In Campaign
DAVID GREENE, host:
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
All this week, we've been checking in on some of the most interesting Senate races around the country; today, two states where Tea Party candidates have shaken things up. First, Alaska, where Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski will not be on the ballot, but she's hoping to win as a write-in candidate.
As NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Anchorage, Murkowski's move is creating a whole new level of uncertainty.
Unidentified Group: Lisa, win. Win, Lisa, win.
MARTIN KASTE: Senator Murkowski lost the Republican primary to Tea Party candidate Joe Miller last month. And now, she's running as that most unusual of political animals, the insurgent-incumbent.
Senator LISA MURKOWSKI (Republican, Alaska): They tell me that this can't be done, that this is a futile effort. Well, perhaps it's one time that they met one Republican woman who won't quit on Alaska.
(Soundbite of cheering)
KASTE: That's a not so subtle dig at Sarah Palin, who stepped down early as governor.
Murkowski says the Alaska Republican Party has been hijacked by Tea Party groups, and this write-in effort of hers looks like a sort of rebellion against the Tea Party rebellion.
Mr. STEVE WACKOWSKI (Spokesman, Murkowski Campaign): There is no book written for what we are embarking on.
KASTE: Steve Wackowski is the campaign spokesman. At headquarters in the low-rent district of Anchorage, he collapses on an old couch and contemplates the challenges ahead. In a situation like this - an incumbent with good name recognition but running as a write-in - it's not even clear anyone knows how to do an accurate poll.
In this uncharted territory, Wackowski talks about waging a guerilla campaign for moderate and independent voters.
Mr. WACKOWSKI: It's actually quite liberating now. Fifty-four percent of Alaskans are not affiliated with a political party, so we're the ones going against the system.
KASTE: For supporters of Joe Miller, the idea that Murkowski is against the system is laughable and maddening. Their man won the primary, but they still see themselves as under siege by the political establishment.
Greg Pew(ph) revs up his fellow volunteers.
Mr. GREG PEW (Volunteer, Miller Campaign): They haven't taken your voice yet. They want it...
Unidentified Woman: Mmm. Praise the Lord.
Mr. PEW: ...but they ain't taking it.
Unidentified Woman: That's right.
KASTE: This is Miller's campaign office in Wasilla, Sarah Palin's hometown. On this evening, she is busy at home. She's tweeted that she is watching her daughter on "Dancing with the Stars."
But the volunteers get all the star power they need when Joe Miller walks in.
Unidentified Man: Hello, Senator.
Mr. JOE MILLER (Republican, Alaska; Senatorial Candidate): How are you doing? Where's your beautiful wife?
(Soundbite of laughter)
KASTE: Miller has a military bearing and a Chuck Norris stubble, and he's scornful of Murkowski's write-in insurgency.
Mr. MILLER: I expected it. It's very difficult for somebody in her position to relinquish power.
KASTE: He says a vote for Murkowski is a vote to keep things as they are in Washington.
Mr. MILLER: It's really basically a perspective that things are okay, that government can continue in the direction it's going and that government won't continue to expand.
KASTE: Miller believes in ending earmarks and phasing out federal entitlement programs. Opponents call him a hypocrite, pointing out that he took farm subsidies in the 1990s.
Mr. SCOTT McADAMS (Democrat, Alaska; Senatorial Candidate): I think Joe Miller peaked. I think that Lisa Murkowski can't win a write-in. And I believe I'm going to be the next United States senator.
KASTE: Scott McAdams is the third contender for the title of insurgent-to-beat. The Democratic mayor of Sitka, he probably didn't stand a chance in this red state until Murkowski's write-in. The initial assumption was that she'd split the Republican vote with Miller and possibly hand the election to Alaska's Democratic voters, a scenario McAdams still wants to encourage.
Mr. McADAMS: People, I think, have been conditioned to believe that this is the land of Sarah Palin. Well, I'm here to tell you that Alaska is a state that has the third highest concentration of union employees in the United States of America.
KASTE: But the state's largest union, the teachers and school employees, is backing Murkowski. And major Democratic figures are also hedging their bets. The Democratic candidate for governor says he'd be good with either McAdams or Murkowski as senator. In the through-the-looking-glass world of Alaska politics, it may be Lisa Murkowski, the Republican incumbent, who ends up as the choice for liberal voters.
But the truth is, nobody is willing to bet on the outcome of this race. As one McAdams supporter said, there are just too many variables.
Martin Kaste, NPR News, Anchorage.
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