One-hundred and twenty-three people voted in the eroding, Southwest Alaska village of Newtok on Tuesday. Not one chose Republican senate nominee Joe Miller.
One ballot went to Democrat Scott McAdams. Two people chose the Libertarian candidate.
The rest? All write-ins -- which this year likely means Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
"I was kind of scared (that) Miller might win," said Newtok tribal administrator Stanley Tom, whose job is similar to being a mayor in other towns. "We made a public announcement over the VHF radio to vote for Lisa Murkowski," he said.
If the hand count of write-in ballots shows Murkowski has indeed won the U.S. Senate race, villages like Newtok may have made the difference.
The math is striking. Five rural voting districts -- all regions that voted for Tony Knowles over Murkowski in the Senate race just six years ago -- gave the Republican incumbent as much as 60 percent of her apparent 13,400-vote lead over Miller.
Fueled by unrestricted contributions from Alaska Native corporations and endorsed by the Alaska Federation of Natives, Murkowski's write-in campaign clobbered Miller and McAdams up and down the remote Alaska coast. The lopsided victories stretched from the North Slope village of Wainwright, where Murkowski stands to win as much as 74 percent of the vote in the three-way race, down to Sand Point off the Alaska Peninsula, where seven of 10 people voted "write-in."
"The rural vote was absolutely critical to what we hope will be our success," Murkowski spokesman Steve Wackowski said Friday as his boss flew back to Washington, D.C.
While statewide politicians often need rural Alaska to help win elections, the towns and villages bank on their congressional delegation for basic survival. It was an act of Congress that created the Alaska Native regional corporations, and it's Congress that streams money for health care and social services to cash-poor hunting and fishing communities.
This year, the relationship between Native corporations and candidates changed when a Supreme Court ruling freed firms to pour unlimited money into political activity.
As a result, a "Super PAC" comprised of Alaska Native corporations reported spending more than $1.26 million to get Murkowski re-elected. The effort included mailing scores of boxes of campaign material to villages across the state, and hiring workers to go door-to-door to hand out brochures and teach people how to vote a write-in ballot for Murkowski.
Could Murkowski have won without the help?
"Good question," said Wackowski, her spokesman. "Let me put it like this. The proof is in the pudding."
There's no question the political action committee, called Alaskans Standing Together, played "a big role" in the election outcome, said Will Anderson, AST chair.
"Whether it was what made a complete difference, I think that's a matter for debate," he said.
Murkowski's support from the corporations and from the AFN -- which share some of the same leadership -- was a regular target for Miller, who said the incumbent had been "bought and paid for" by the corporations.
He accused the AFN board of canceling a Senate candidate forum at its annual convention last month to keep him from appearing before the state's largest annual gathering of Alaska Natives.
McAdams, a former Sitka mayor who supported tribal sovereignty and the U.S. Small Business Administration 8(a) program under which Native firms are eligible for no-bid contracts, said he was also disappointed when the forum was called off.
Chairman Albert Kookesh said the federation canceled the event after Miller filed a Federal Election Commission complaint over Native corporation spending in the race. "We endorsed Murkowski, we want to give her all the air time," Kookesh said at the time.
A state senator from Angoon, Kookesh is also a member of the Sealaska Corp board. So is Murkowski campaign co-chair Byron Mallott, who introduced Murkowski at the convention.
Murkowski has sponsored a bill to give the corporation prime lands in the Tongass National Forest. McAdams and Miller have criticized the bill in its current form.
For her part, Murkowski has said nothing annoys her like Miller's accusation that she's been "bought" by Alaska Native interests because of her support of the 8(a) program, and points to her tenure on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, including work on the Tribal Law and Order Act and reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Act.
The Murkowski campaign and the political action committee chairman said Friday that Murkowski will not be beholden to the Native corporations that campaigned for her.
"Our support was a result of seeing the eight years of her positions that supported our community," Anderson said.
Anderson is also chief executive of Koniag Inc., which -- independent of the PAC -- sent newsletters to shareholders endorsing Murkowski, he said.
WRITE-IN LISTS REQUESTED
Miller's warnings of runaway federal spending, meantime, fell flat in the Bush.
Backed by tea party groups and former Gov. Sarah Palin, Miller has said entitlement programs such as unemployment benefits are unconstitutional at a federal level and should be a state responsibility. He called for reforms in the 8(a) program that would hinge federal contracts on shareholder employment and has called earmarks "the single most corrupting influence in Congress."
Myron Naneng, head of the Bethel-based Association of Village Council Presidents, made the motion at AFN to endorse Murkowski.
"You don't call the first people of Alaska special interest. We were here first," Naneng said Thursday.
"Would he treat us that way if he had gotten elected, if and when we go to Washington, D.C., to ask for support for our villages?" Naneng said.
Naneng lives in a Western Alaska voting district that includes Newtok and many Lower Kuskokwim and Kuskokwim Bay villages. Voters there favored Knowles over Murkowski by 3-1 in the 2004 senate race.
This year, 74 percent of voters in the district cast write-in ballots, a lopsided Murkowski victory.
'MURKOWSKI' BRACELETS REACH NEWTOK
In Newtok, village leaders are in the middle of an attempt to move the entire community to escape erosion. It's an expensive job -- as much as $2 million per household, according to past estimates.
Murkowski visited the village for a town hall meeting last year, and in interviews has been sympathetic to the relocation effort.
As for McAdams, people in Newtok probably don't know the newcomer from Southeast, said Tom, the tribal administrator. And Tom doesn't trust Miller.
"He wanted to cut the Medicare and federal programs, and that was the scary part," he said.
To make sure he spelled her name right, Tom wore a "Lisa Murkowski" rubber wristband to the community hall on Election Day, he said.
"I told the council members to hold on to them for a souvenir," he said of the bracelets. "We just made history."