Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to announce Friday afternoon whether she'll run as an independent write-in candidate after losing in last month's Republican primary election to Joe Miller. Murkowski asserted Tuesday that Alaska's Republican primary "was hijacked by the Tea Party Express, an outside extremist group."
"I will continue to seek advice from my fellow Alaskans about what is best for the state's future and announce a decision by Friday," Murkowski said in a statement released by her campaign.
Her campaign spokesman said he expects the announcement to be made Friday afternoon.
The Tea Party Express responded to the statement by calling Murkowski a sore loser who "dishonors the decision of Alaska's voters" and is threatening to split the Republican vote in the November general election against Democrat Scott McAdams. The group, funded through a California-based political action committee, spent as much as $600,000 to help Miller beat Murkowski.
The Miller campaign said the tea party movement is made up of people throughout the country, including Alaska, who are concerned with the nation's path. Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said his campaign isn't preoccupied with Murkowski.
"We just have to run our campaign," DeSoto said, adding "of course we prefer she stay out."
Murkowski said "every day Alaskans from all walks of life" have urged her to remain in the U.S. Senate race. Her only choice to do so is to run as a write-in.
The deadline passes today to get her name printed on the ballot as a third-party candidate. The only third party in the race in the U.S. Senate race is the Libertarians, and they voted against considering her. Libertarian candidate David Haase also said he would not step aside to let Murkowski take his place. Murkowski said Tuesday she wouldn't have done it anyway.
"Advisers and friends had urged me to find a way to get my name printed on the ballot at all costs," she said. "However, after meeting with the Libertarian candidate last week and considering that option, I cannot in good conscience seek the Libertarian nomination. ... I am not going to quit my party. I will not wrap myself in the flag of another political party for the sake of election at any cost."
Murkowski would not have to give up her party registration as a Republican to run as a write-in candidate, even though she wouldn't be running on the Republican ticket.
National Republicans, meanwhile, are closing ranks behind Miller. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on MSNBC Tuesday morning that Miller won the primary fairly.
The Kentucky Republican said Murkowski should accept the result and "move on."
The Republican Party of Alaska's central committee held a meeting Aug. 28, and party leaders asked for solidarity. Bill Noll, a central committee member from Anchorage, said he has mixed feelings about it.
Noll said that, as a state Republican Party official, he'd say "the people have spoken and let's move on."
But, speaking personally, Noll said he's worried about the loss of Murkowski's seniority, particularly given the possibility the Republicans could take control of the Senate.
Noll, the former state commerce director, said Murkowski's seniority in the Senate could put her in line to be chair of the energy committee if that happened. "That's not just something to blow off and throw away," he said. It's not clear what running as a write-in would do to Murkowski's position in the Republican power structure, though. McConnell didn't address that on Tuesday, saying only that the Senate Republicans expect Miller to be Alaska's senator.
Mike Dunton, a state Republican Party central committee member from Miller's hometown of Fairbanks, said it was offensive for Murkowski to suggest Alaskans were swayed by a sinister Outside tea party force. He said Murkowski's campaign staff "want to redeem themselves from a badly run campaign, no matter how much damage they do to the Alaska Republican Party in the process."
Murkowski has influential supporters, though. They include Orie Williams, chairman of the Interior regional Native corporation, Doyon Limited. He wrote the Fairbanks News-Miner this weekend urging Murkowski to stay in the race. He argued a large number of Alaskans aren't happy with the small percentage of Alaska's registered voters who gave Miller his victory in the Republican primary.
"Joe Miller is too extreme for Alaska. (Democratic nominee) Scott McAdams is not ready. A race between those two is no race at all; voters would merely be left to pick their least worst option," wrote Williams, who is not registered with a party.
WHY THE WAIT?
Anchorage political consultant Art Hackney, who is favorable to Murkowski, said he thinks she's paying a price for waiting so long to decide whether to stay in.
The energy to support a candidate is a passing thing, he said, and as each day passes, "it's just human nature to look at the world and think, maybe life will be OK."
Hackney and Anchorage pollster Marc Hellenthal, who tends to work for Republicans, said they think Murkowski is waiting to see if the Democrats replace McAdams with a better known candidate for the November general election.
That would need to happen by today's deadline to finalize ballots. But national and state Democratic Party officials said it's not happening. McAdams has said no one ever asked him to step aside, and his campaign scoffed at the idea.
"He's a big man, and it would take a lot to push him down," said McAdams spokeswoman Heather Handyside.
Hellenthal said polls have shown Murkowski would be competitive in a three-way race with Miller and McAdams. But running as a write-in skews those numbers, he said. People might say they'll vote for her but actually writing her name in and filling in the bubble is a different matter.
"She'll make political science history if she actually pulls it off," Hellenthal said. "I would not give her a good chance of winning a write-in. Based on history, her chance would be close to zero."
No one has been elected to the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate since Strom Thurmond in 1954, although Murkowski reportedly has $1 million remaining in her campaign account to run and essentially universal name recognition.
McAdams and Miller, meanwhile, are raising money both in Alaska and Outside. Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is headlining a Sept. 21 fundraiser in Washington, D.C., for McAdams, who is mayor of Sitka, and two others. The "Moving Mayors Forward" fundraiser will also benefit mayors John Callahan of Pennsylvania and David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who are running for Congress.
Begich already had the fundraiser planned before the Alaska Senate race became competitive; it's part of his effort to help boost fellow Democratic mayors like him into higher office. McAdams, who will not attend the event, was added as a beneficiary after his prospects improved following Murkowski's defeat in the Aug. 24 primary.
Miller will head to Washington at the end of September to raise money for his campaign, his spokesman said.
Sean Cockerham reported from Anchorage, and Erika Bolstad reported from Washington, D.C.
By SEAN COCKERHAM and ERIKA BOLSTAD
Anchorage Daily News