John W. Dean

Miller v. Murkowski v. McAdams: The Tea Party's Marquee Election In Alaska Is An Upset In the Making

By JOHN W. DEAN
Friday, October 29, 2010

Alaska's senatorial election pits Tea-Party-candidate-turned-Republican-nominee Joe Miller against the incumbent Republican Senator, Lisa Murkowski, and the Democratic Party's nominee, Scott McAdams. The big guns of the Tea Party movement are backing Miller, and doing their best to get him elected to the U.S. Senate.

Accordingly, no less than Big Mama Grizzly herself, Sarah Palin, is cuddling and encouraging Joe as if he were an endangered cub. Joining Palin are radical Republicans like South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

This all-out, albeit last minute, effort by the GOP mean-team makes Alaska the marquee Tea Party contest. Because Alaska is in the nation's last time-zone, depending on how the other races unfold, we could all be looking to this election to see which party will control the U.S. Senate. But even if that issue has been resolved before Alaskan polls close, given the fact that Joe Miller is a consummate Tea Party candidate, and the Tea Party mojo have invested so heavily in him, this will still be a telling race.

Is This Contest As Close As It Appears?

As I write this column, with less than a week before the election, the contest is a statistical dead-heat, a three-way race in which the polls show no clear favorite. According to the most reliable polling, this will be a real race to the finish.

For example, Nate Silver's Five-Thirty-Eight (which uses a number of polls and averages them) has Miller with a slight lead at 48.5 percent of the vote; Murkowski with 34.1 percent; and McAdams with 26.3 percent -- and gives Miller a 66.6-percent chance of winning the race. The newest poll has the race trending even tighter: Hays Research has Murkowski holding at 34 percent, with Miller dropping to 23 percent and McAdams rising to 29 percent.

Conservatives pundits and bloggers, in general, also want Miller to be Alaska's next U.S. Senator. For example, Conservatives4Palin appears to think that it is almost inevitable that Miller will win; and the neo-conservative The Weekly Standard, which favored Miller from the outset, likes that he graduated from West Point and looks like a young Chuck Norris with facial hair and has been with him all the way. And Republican money has been pouring into the Miller campaign.

Joe Miller upset incumbent Senator Murkowski in the primary. But she has refused to leave the race and is now running as a write-in candidate, since she is not on the ballot. The national media attention has focused almost exclusively on the Miller-versus-Murkowski contest, which has been ugly from day one. Given the fact that Murkowski's father, who left the U.S. Senate to serve as Alaska's governor -- and appointed his daughter Lisa to fill his Senate seat -- was defeated by Sarah Palin in a hard-fought contest, the national media loves this soap-opera-like battle.

If one simply read media accounts and watched the news, it would appear that Scott McAdams is almost a footnote in this three-way contest. I have read a number of national news stories that do not even have his name correct, calling him Scott Adams. And most national-media accounts make but passing reference to him. When you talk to knowledgeable people in Alaska, however, a different picture emerges.

Outsiders Are Discounting Alaska's Highly-Effective Democratic Party

Early in the 2008 presidential election cycle, I had the pleasure of being a keynote speaker at the Alaskan Democratic Party Convention. In fact, I am not a Democrat, but rather an independent who holds progressive social views and conservative fiscal views, but finds the contemporary Republican Party a threat to the nation's well-being. I was invited to talk based on my book Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches. I had an opportunity to visit with literally hundreds of Alaskan Democrats. I found them truly impressive.

Sarah Palin, then Alaska's governor, had not been selected by John McCain to be his vice-presidential running mate. It was only rumored that she might get the nod, but the rumor delighted Democrats, who desperately wanted to see her leave because they feared that her incompetence would destroy the state. "Pretty face, pretty awful governor," was how one Democrat described her.

Among the people dedicated to public service whom I met at the convention was the mayor of Anchorage, Mark Begich, who was running for the U.S. Senate. Even though then-incumbent Senator Ted Stevens was under a cloud -- he had yet to be indicted in Washington, DC for the gifts he had received to fix up his home -- Begich was given no chance of winning. Republicans with whom I chatted while in Alaska told me that Ted Stevens could win even if he was in jail. To make a long story very short, today, of course, Mark Begich is in the U.S. Senate, and one of the reasons he won was because the Alaska Democrats worked tirelessly for him, just as they are now working to get Scott McAdams elected.

Why Scott McAdams Will Win

As I have previously written, I don't do political prognostication. But if Scott McAdams wins, I will not be surprised at all, and here are the reasons why: First, while McAdams is not a flashy candidate like Miller, he is a solid candidate. Trained as a teacher, he served on a school board, and as mayor of the small Alaskan town of Sitka. He has proven himself an undefeatable campaigner, who won the primary and his party's nomination by hard work and who has gained steady ground without big-name support. He has earned the solid support of the Alaska Democrats.

Moreover, the closer Alaskans look at Joe Miller, the more frightening they find him. Even if they ignore his extreme positions on issues like homosexuality and gay marriage, and his embrace of concepts like "the Berlin Wall" as a way to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States, there are other serious problems. For one, Miller approved his guards' arresting a seasoned journalist so that he would not be asked questions about his suspension and removal from a prior government post, where it is now known that he lied and was ethically conflicted. Finally, even aside from all this, what troubles many is that Alaska lives on subsidies from the Federal Government -- subsidies that Joe Miller opposes.

It is my view that approximately twenty-five percent of the voting population is insane. I do not exaggerate when I say that, and I do not use this analogy to make any comparison with Miller, but this insane element of our population would, without hesitation, vote for Adolph Hitler. Miller will carry these nutcases without a problem. But he needs more than twenty-five percent.

I was given a tip about a truly good analysis of the situation. It is a chalk-board presentation by Tom Begich, the very engaging brother of Mark Begich. The Begich family is truly savvy about Alaska politics, which is in their blood. Shannyn Moore, who is among Alaska's best and brightest, not to mention delightfully droll and fun, does a program known as "Moore Up North," and she had Tom Begich explain why it is all but certain that Scott McAdams is going to win.

Firedog Lake's streaming video runs just over fourteen minutes, and I urge you to watch it. What Tom Begich explains is that even better-known and better-liked candidates than Lisa Murkowski have failed with write-in campaigns in Alaska. While Murkowski got a break with a court ruling that lists of write-in candidates can be posted in the voting areas, still write-ins are all but impossible. The biggest problem: Even when voters write in the name, they often forget to fill in the bubble beside the name, which is considered to be the vote. Given the best estimate of the turnout for this race, 316,000 voters, if McAdams can merely do as badly as the worst statewide Democrat in Alaska history, and get 31 percent of the vote, he will still win. Because he is so close, it is a compelling argument by one of the best-informed election professionals in Alaska.

If I wagered on elections, this one would be a good bet, for I think the odds-makers have this longshot very wrong. Lisa Murkowski is not going to win, and Joe Miller fits perfectly into the mold of the authoritarian conservative, and those who fit that type are all a bit scary. Alaska is an awesome place, and the state's people deserve the kind of solid citizen and leader that Scott McAdams will be when elected.


John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the president.

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