Wednesday, August 25, 2010

With All Alaska Precincts Counted, Joe Miller Leads Lisa Murkowski By 1.8 Percent, But Over 16,000 Absentee Ballots Remain To Be Counted

All 438 precincts in Alaska have now been counted, and the latest numbers show that Joe Miller (47,027 votes, 50.9 percent) maintains a 1.8 percent lead over Lisa Murkowski (45,359 votes, 49.1 percent). However, ever since the first 218 precincts were counted on Tuesday night, Miller's lead has been slowly shrinking -- from 3.7 percent at the midpoint to the current 1.8 percent. And there remain over 16,000 absentee ballots to be counted; the first group on August 31st, the second group on September 3rd, and the remainder on September 8th.

Why is this a prospective problem for Joe Miller? Because we had a similar situation in the Ted Stevens-Mark Begich Senate race in 2008. At the end of the precinct count, Stevens had 106,594 votes to Begich's 103,337 votes, a 1.4 percent lead. However, once the absentee ballots were counted, Begich won the election with 151,767 votes to Stevens' 147,814 votes, a difference of 1.25 percent. Begich picked up 54 percent of the absentee vote.

The same reversal could occur in this race, particularly if many of the absentees sent in their ballots before the July 25th poll showing that Miller had drawn to within 11 points of Murkowski. Preliminary estimates hold that if Murkowski picks up 60 percent or more of the absentee vote, she'll win. Pollster Ivan Moore published his analysis of the outcome in the Anchorage Press, and he thinks Murkowski cannot get enough votes from the absentees to overcome the current deficit, so as far as he's concerned, she's lost the election. He suggests that Joe Miller was a better candidate than many thought, including himself, and that while many people may have been satisfied with Lisa Murkowski on the surface, they didn't feel loyal to her. The latter point is important; while most of those who supported Miller did so out of a sense of passion, many who supported Murkowski did so only out of a sense of duty. In contrast, Dan Fagan believes it was ideology which crippled Murkowski's efforts.

Murkowski said that while she was surprised that Miller is leading, she’s optimistic the count of absentee votes will turn it around. “Our (poll) numbers all throughout have not only been strong but really overwhelmingly strong...And clearly there was a shift, whether it was kind of the anti-incumbency feedback that you get in the Lower 48, I don’t know yet. I haven’t spent that much time dwelling on it because it’s been just a relatively few hours since the polls closed and we started seeing the results…I’m sure there will be much that is written on who is to blame and who is to credit”, said Murkowski. She brushed aside rumors of a possible third-party candidacy against Miller should she lose, saying such speculation was premature. Watch 6-minute KTUU video of press conference HERE (marginal quality).

Rumors of a possible third-party run were floated by a Murkowski campaign insider and published by the Daily Beast as a possible trial balloon to determine public receptivity to the idea. The source suggested that Murkowski would be a strong third-party candidate, and that she has enough money left to make it a credible run.

According to Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai, it's too late for Murkowski to file to have her name appear on the ballot as an independent, so that would need to be a write-in effort. There is a Libertarian candidate in the race, Frederick Haase, who could choose to step down. The Libertarian Party could then select a replacement for him on the ballot. There is no other third party candidate in the U.S. Senate race, so Libertarian would be the only option for Murkowski to join a new party for a run.

Analysis: Launching a third-party run could seriously backfire on Lisa Murkowski. Many who voted for her felt more ideologically kin to Joe Miller, but supported Murkowski because she personifies class and can reach out to more Alaskans. If she runs third-party, she risks tarnishing that reputation and being portrayed as vindictive and mean-spirited. The best bet -- if she loses, walk away with her head held high. She's served this state to the best of her ability since 2002.

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