Murkowski Write-In Effort Gains Steam
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
There are a lot of wild U.S. Senate races this year, and one of the most surprising is unfolding right now in Alaska. In the August primary there, Tea Party candidate Joe Miller upset the Republican incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, but she refused to quit, and she's fighting on as a write-in candidate.
Write-in campaigns are usually impossible to win, but as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, Murkowski is surging in the polls - thanks in part to her opponent's missteps.
MARTIN KASTE: Joe Miller is a tough interview to get lately, as a journalist for the Alaska Dispatch found out on Sunday night. At a campaign event, he pressed Miller to answer questions, or he hounded Miller, if you ask the campaign, and then he found himself being handcuffed by Miller's security guards. They promised the same treatment to the other journalists there, as you can hear in this video posted by the Anchorage Daily News.
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Man #1: Sir, you're trespassing. You need to leave.
Unidentified Man #2: Officer?
KASTE: The incident made national news, of course. But all the attention it got also underscored something that Joe Miller has been complaining about in this race, that there hasn't been a lot of attention paid to policy issues. For him, this election is all about cutting spending and shrinking the federal government. But here, too, his opponents have gone after him for his apparent personal hypocrisy, for his acceptance of farm subsidies, for instance. And then, there's that most Alaskan of misdeeds, he applied for a cheap hunting license that was meant for poor people. Miller has tried to change the subject back to policy.
Mr. JOE MILLER (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Alaska): We've drawn a line in the sand. You can ask me about background. You can ask me about personal issues. I'm not going to answer it. I'm not. This is about the issues.
KASTE: We took that challenge to his opponent, Senator Murkowski, and asked her, personal issues aside, what does she see of the main policy difference between them?
Senator LISA MURKOWSKI (Republican, Alaska): I, too, agree that we need to reduce federal spending. We need to deal with our deficit. But I would not do away with the level of federal spending that we have here in Alaska. One in three jobs in our state has some nexus to federal dollars.
KASTE: Murkowski has her own challenges in this race. As a write-in candidate, she's had to dedicate a lot of her ad budget to the basic task of teaching Alaskans how to spell her name.
(Soundbite of political ad)
Unidentified Child: Murkowski, M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I.
(Soundbite of bell)
Unidentified Man #3: That is correct.
KASTE: Election officials say they'll be tolerant of misspellings on the ballot as long as voter intent is clear. The polls have her almost tied with Miller, with a Democrat, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, coming in a respectable third. Unfortunately, for McAdams, though, some registered Democrats are now leaning toward Murkowski - people like Juneau firefighter Noah Jenkins.
Mr. NOAH JENKINS: I don't know if I ever voted for a Republican at all.
KASTE: But now Jenkins is driving around Juneau with big Murkowski signs on his truck. For him, it's a strategic vote against the Tea Party candidate.
Mr. JENKINS: It's a very difficult decision to know how the numbers are going to play out, how the votes are going to fall. But I think that Lisa has got a lot of popularity and, hopefully, she'll be able to pull through and beat Joe Miller.
KASTE: That's not what candidate Scott McAdams wants to hear from his fellow Democrats.
Mr. SCOTT McADAMS (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, Alaska): They don't need to be strategic in this race. They have the opportunity to vote their values and not their fears. You know, Lisa Murkowski is engaged in a write-in campaign that's neither supported by mathematics or history.
KASTE: McAdams says Murkowski may be catching up with Miller in the polls, but he says she'd need to do a lot better than that to win the actual election. He predicts she'd need a buffer of several thousand extra votes just to make up for all the spoiled ballots. Many pro-Murkowski Democrats acknowledge this.
In Juneau, firefighter Noah Jenkins says he thinks a lot of Democrats are waiting until Election Day to decide whether to risk voting for one Republican in order to block another.
Martin Kaste, NPR News.
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