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Miller complicates Senate race, opens door for Dems

  • Author: John Havelock
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 13, 2016
  • Published September 13, 2016

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller speaks with supporters after the polls closed on Aug. 19, 2014. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

With Joe Miller now on the ballot in the Alaska U.S. Senate race as a "sort-of" Libertarian, Democrats nationally and locally can seize a major opportunity if they wake up and act soon enough, which seems unlikely.

Miller has a renewed base with the Trump candidacy that will make him a close, maybe winning contender for Sen. Murkowski's seat. You may recall Miller actually defeated Lisa Murkowski in the last Republican primary only to be overcome when she launched a write-in candidacy. Mr. Miller belongs to the right-wing fringe of the Republican Party though, who knows, it may be closer to center in Alaska. Many Alaskans have assumed that Mr. Miller was permanently put out of action by his defeat and the publicity concerning his disqualifications that accompanied the final campaign. But things change.

National polls show Donald Trump winning Alaska over Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Trump is the candidate of the Republican far right.  Sen. Murkowski has shown at least mild disapproval of Mr. Trump. As an enthusiastic supporter, Joe Miller is positioned to be the "Trump candidate," coming into office riding his tail feathers.

As Alaska Dispatch News columnist Dermot Cole has pointed out (Sept. 9), the Democrats have been caught flat-footed by this development. Leading figures in the Democratic Party figured no way was a Democrat going to beat Sen. Murkowski and passed on their own party's nomination. The Democratic Senate nomination thus went to Mr. Metcalfe, a "what-the-hell, why not?" candidate burdened with major political liabilities but with more name recognition than another minor opponent also sharing a Republican background.

Probably dismissing the Miller development as a remote marginal possibility, Margaret Stock, who could easily have topped Mr. Metcalfe in the Democratic primary, filed for the Senate seat as an "independent." Ms. Stock has major assets as a highly educated retired military officer with national experience. She is also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius award." Ms. Stock has few liabilities except being largely unknown, a big one, and a political novice, an issue which could go either way.

If the election was "triangular" with Miller and Murkowski on the same electoral ballot facing one well-known and reasonably popular alternative — Democrat or independent — it is likely that this third candidate would win. Alaska is Republican but not two-thirds Republican. The party is also split, describable almost as two parties, as Sen. Murkowski's past experience with Mr. Miller proves. The third candidate, garnering Democratic and marginal voters can in theory easily accrue 40 percent of the votes, thus topping Miller and Murkowski, who split the remaining 60 percent.

Even if still possible this late in the game, Mr. Metcalfe, by his nature, is not likely to step aside to put Ms. Stock's name on the ballot. Yet, absent a major campaign aimed at dissuading them, tens of thousands of voters are going to put an "X" by his name in the election because he is named on the ballot as the "Democrat candidate." Without a strong campaign to dissuade this thinking, Metcalfe, making the general election a four-way race, will pull enough votes to hand the election to the winner of the Murkowski-Miller battle.

Our colleague Dermot Cole mentions the possibility that Mark Begich, recently evicted by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, might now throw his hat in the ring for a return. But he would have to do a write-in. Ms. Stock has a major advantage in having her name already on the ballot.

Whether it's Margaret or Mark, the party had better get going fast or write off the race. The State Central Committee needs to endorse the independent of its choice and, with national support, put together a serious fundraising and marketing campaign or write off a real opportunity to pick up a U.S. Senate seat.

If the Democratic leadership can't put it together, Democrat-leaning voters might well consider voting for Lisa to avoid the embarrassing risk of sending an ultra-rightist to represent Alaska in the Senate.

John Havelock, a former Alaska attorney general, ran as the Democrat nominee for U.S. Senate many years ago.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

 

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