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Can McAdams Pull Off Alaska Shocker?

Can McAdams Pull Off Alaska Shocker?

By Scott Conroy - November 1, 2010


Joe Miller's defeat of incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's GOP primary in August is widely considered the biggest 2010 election surprise to date. But Alaska Democrats now see real hope that their party's nominee, Scott McAdams, might pull off an even more remarkable upset on Tuesday.

The likeliest scenario for a McAdams victory goes like this: Miller wins about 35 percent of the vote, while support for Murkowski's write-in candidacy fades to the point where just under 30 percent write in her name and check the box on the ballot. McAdams then ekes out the victory by having convinced Democrats and independents that he, not Murkowski, is the most viable roadblock on Miller's path to Washington.

An Alaska Democratic Party official told RealClearPolitics that despite Miller's exceedingly problematic stretch over the past few weeks, every analysis that state Democrats have conducted has shown Miller maintaining at least 35 percent of the vote, and that he was clearly in a stronger position than Murkowski going into Election Day.

"I do not see Miller finishing third. If he's as high as 37 percent, it will be really hard to beat him," the Democratic official said in placing the odds of a McAdams victory at a hopeful 50/50. "People have to conclude that McAdams can win and Murkowski can't. If we had another week or two, we could have cemented that even more."

McAdams, the Mayor of Sitka, was largely unknown in Alaska politics before jumping into the race after other more prominent Democrats declined to suffer what almost everyone figured would be a ceremonial defeat at the hands of Murkowski. But after some shaky moments in the early stages of his general election bid, McAdams proved himself to be a viable contender by delivering solid debate performances, raising enough money to compete, and consolidating his Democratic base to a better extent than what was expected.

But the idea that Miller is the Republican candidate to beat is not one that is universally shared by McAdams' backers, and polling data in Alaska has been all over the map.

The official line from the McAdams camp remains that Miller's problems over the last few weeks have sunk the tea party-backed Republican's chances with moderate voters.

"I think that Joe Miller would be extremely lucky to reach 30 percent," McAdams spokesperson Heather Handiside said. "The continuous news every single week - at some points every single day - that questions his character has significantly dampened Alaskans' enthusiasm for him. I think he has a hardcore group of supporters who will come out, but I don't think they're more than 30 percent of voters at this point."

On Sunday, the McAdams campaign began making robocalls, which former President Bill Clinton recorded on McAdams' behalf. The ads have reached more than 50,000 registered Democrats in the state, according to the McAdams campaign.

Another factor providing hope to the McAdams campaign is that it did not emphasize early voting and instead counted on a late surge of support as voters got to better know McAdams and as his candidacy appeared more viable."Time was on our side," an Alaska Democratic official said.

The McAdams campaign cited a recent survey conducted by the Democratically affiliated Public Policy Polling (PPP) that had McAdams trailing Miller by seven points but also showed that the Democrat's favorability rating stood at 50 percent, while only 30 percent of voters had an unfavorable view of him. In contrast, Miller's favorable/unfavorable numbers were at a dismal 36/59 and Murkowski's lagged at 37/53.

"Anecdotally, our letters to the editor have blown away the other candidates," Handiside, McAdams' spokesperson, said. "When we do our town halls across the state, they're packed - they're standing room only. And people don't leave thinking he's the lesser of two or three evils. They're impressed with him, and they think he represents their values."

The Murkowski campaign vigorously contested the McAdams hype, noting that the Democrat has never polled at above 30 percent, and also questioned how the latest PPP poll could possibly be accurate, since it showed that Miller has actually gained ground during a time when he suffered a string of problematic episodes.

"Both candidates are running full-scale attacks against Lisa, and I think it's clear who the frontrunner is in this race," Murkowski spokesperson Steve Wackowski said. "Their entire focus has been on trying to cut Senator Murkowski down, and we believe that's because we're the ones with the momentum, and we're the frontrunner."

Wackowski said that Murkowski's campaign was running positive TV ads down the home stretch and was focused on get-out-the-vote efforts. "Our numbers show the more people coming out to vote, the better our chances are."

The three-way race remains riddled with uncertainties, but all sides agreed that its outcome will more likely than not be clear by early Wednesday, unless either McAdams or Miller remains in a dead heat against each other or "write-in candidate," as votes are tabulated.

McAdams must rack up large margins in Anchorage and in the southeast peninsula around his home base in Sitka, while Miller hopes to run away with the vote in his hometown of Fairbanks and in the conservative Mat-Su Valley.

Murkowski is counting on broad appeal throughout the state, particularly in the isolated villages that compose the Alaska "bush," an enormous geographical region where she remains overwhelmingly popular and one in which her campaign hopes will compose up to 15 percent of the electorate.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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