It could be the unlikeliest Senate race match-up of the year: teabagging attorney Joe Miller vs. Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams... but we'll first have to see if Miller is indeed the victor. Since this race is still so unsettled, let's do a roundup of all the latest news:
The Math: With every precinct reporting, Miller leads Murkowski by 1,668 votes. But there's the lingering matter of all those absentees, which are still trickling in. Here's the schedule for counting them:
None of the absentees has been counted. Absentee ballots had to be postmarked by Tuesday but could arrive up to 10 days after the election if mailed in the United States and 15 days if overseas. The Division of Elections will do its first count Aug. 31, with additional counts scheduled for Sept. 3 and Sept. 8.
The Alaska Division of Elections says that "more than" 16,000 absentees were requested, and that 7,600 of them have come back so far, but remember -- not all of these ballots will be Republican primary votes. One estimate by Anchorage pollster Dave Dittman says that there are 5,000 GOP absentee ballots outstanding, but I'm not sure how that conclusion was reached, or if that guesstimate accounts for the ballots that have yet to trickle in. (Likely not.) In any event, Murkowski is going to have to win this pile by a large margin in order to come back from the grave.
A Third Party Play?: Murkowski says that it's "premature" to discuss a third-party run before all the absentees come in, but her camp certainly is not ruling it out. One option is a write-in campaign, but the chances of success are pretty dim:
According to the elections coordinator in the Alaska Department of Elections, Murkowski has until October 28 to file as a write-in, in which case write-in votes for her would be counted if the aggregate total of all write-ins is greater than the number of ballots cast for the first-place candidate, or within the range that would require a recount. In the coordinator's 14 years, this has never happened in a state race.
Another option would be to commandeer the line of a third-party... say, for instance, the Alaskan Independence Party. The first problem is that the AIP didn't even bother to nominate a candidate for the general election in the first place, casting doubt on whether it's legally possible for such a play to be engineered. (Remember, Wally Hickel was famously offered the AIP line after losing the GOP primary for the 1990 gubernatorial election, but he was taking over the ballot spot of a previously-nominated candidate.) In any event, the question is entirely academic, as the chair of the AIP has said that they would "absolutely not" let Murkowski join their ranks.
The best option for Murkowski may be to go Libertarian -- that party seems entirely willing to listen to any offer she might make:
If Murkowski loses the primary, there is a possibility that she might able to run on the Libertarian ticket in the November general election. But that would require the Libertarian Senate candidate, David Haase, to agree to step aside, and for the Alaska Libertarian Party to agree to put Murkowski on the ballot.
Alaska Libertarian Party chairman Scott Kohlaas said he was open to the idea and that party leaders were discussing it. "There's a chance," Kohlhaas said on Wednesday.
Haase didn't rule out the idea, saying he'd certainly listen if Murkowski wanted to step into his place.
Scott McAdams, The Anti-Teabagger: First, I encourage you to read this excellent piece by The Mudflats offering a wealth of background on how Joe Miller came from nowhere to force this nail-biter. The piece also has some color on Democrat Scott McAdams, and the details sound pretty good:
Scott McAdams, little known to Alaskans outside the southeast pan-handle, is a popular small town mayor. He runs the city of Sitka and has balanced budgets, focused on education, served on the school board, and has even figured out how to sell water to India. He was a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat all over the state, and is all the kinds of things that Sarah Palin said she was, before the media began to shine a flashlight in all the dark corners. He's a "real Alaskan" in the style of the politicians of old, before oil was discovered and turned a libertarian blue state reddish. [...]
McAdams who unlike Miller, is a fiscally conservative moderate Democrat, has executive experience, was born and raised in Alaska, and has worked with his hands in the fishing industry, suddenly finds himself with an incredible opportunity. One could even say that attorney and Yale Law grad Joe Miller who was born and raised "Outside" is kind of "elite," while McAdams is all about Alaska, and "real people."
McAdams called the tea party-backed Miller too extreme for Alaska, in what is sure to be a theme for the Democrats if Miller turns out to be the Republican nominee.
"I invite people who supported Senator Murkowski to please take a look at our campaign. I believe we are the moderate, rational, practical campaign, not the campaign of extreme measures and 19th-century ideology," McAdams said.
McAdams said Alaskans value federal appropriations to develop infrastructure and don't buy proposals such as abolishing the federal Department of Education. Miller has said education is a function to be left to states and localities. He's argued that if the nation does not slash spending, it is headed for a "sovereign debt crisis" that would be worse for Alaska than less federal money.
I like it -- he's sounding the right notes and drawing the appropriate contrasts. And he certainly has a lot of material to work with; just take a gander, if you haven't already, at Jed L's DailyKos profile of Miller's hard-right, anti-choice, anti-government philosophy. Sure, Joe Miller's resume is impressive on paper (West Point, Yale Law, Magistrate Judge), but that doesn't paper over crazy ideas.
No Democratic Switcheroos: The Twittering classes were full of speculation yesterday that some kind of deal would be worked out to swap McAdams on the Democratic ticket with ex-Gov. Tony Knowles, a man who has lost two statewide races in Alaska in the past six years. As we mentioned earlier, Knowles put those rumors to bed, saying he's not at all interested in a run. McAdams, for his part, is standing absolutely firm, and good for him. Also, good on Mark Begich for lining solidly in McAdams' corner:
But McAdams has the full support of Democrat Mark Begich, who two years ago pulled off his own successful upset of a Republican senator, Ted Stevens. Begich on Wednesday had this to say of McAdams: "I like what I see."
"Welcome to Alaskan politics. Anything can happen. Everything's viable," Begich said. "It doesn't take a lot of money, but it takes someone who is committed and hardworking, and can run a campaign. So I tell people and I've been telling people that this race shouldn't be discounted out, and has potential."