Sarah Palin has spoken, and it appears to be hurting her preferred candidate in Alaska.
Earlier in the week, I thought the Alaska U.S. Senate race was at a critical stage. There was one debate left, between Democrat Scott McAdams, write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski and Republican primary winner Joe Miller. A day after the debate, Sarah Palin was the keynote speaker at a rally for Miller who has been heavily backed by the Tea Party movement.
Now the word is that Miller is plummeting in the polls. A Hayes Research Group Poll shows Miller has gone from front-runner to bottom dweller in the three-way race. Miller is now in third place, trailing “a write-in candidate,” (code for Murkowski) who has 34 percent; and McAdams who is close behind with 29 percent. Miller has 23 percent of voters' support.
In the primary, Miller was able to live by Palin, but now it appears he is about to die by Palin. This could have a massive effect on the U.S. Senate.
Rank-and-file Republicans in the Senate flatly opposed Murkowski’s write-in campaign. In September, the Republican Senate Caucus considered immediately replacing her as the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee. While the secret vote spared Murkowski’s position, it sent a message that Republicans think Murkowski is finished — never to be heard from again. Now if Murkowski pulls off the first successful write-in campaign since Strom Thurmond did in 1954, there will be a potential committee leader in the Senate with not only no loyalty to Republicans, but also a legitimate ax to grind.
Here are the scenarios to consider in Alaska:
Scenario 1: Murkowski wins and someone holds a grudge
Republicans are still likely to do their best to keep Murkowski off the committee, let alone allow her to keep a leadership position. This isn’t likely to sit well with the Alaskan, who will have proven she doesn’t need her old party to win. Murkowski could then declare herself an Independent and essentially reduce the party’s number by one. If party leadership kicks her off the ENR Committee, they will be removing a vote from the nation’s second-largest energy state — remember, Alaska’s other senator is a Democrat — and give her more motivation to buck the party over the next six years. A secondary effect of this situation could be that Republicans will think twice about bringing Palin with them on the campaign trail.
Scenario 2: Murkowski wins and Republicans remain one big happy family
There’s a good chance that Republicans won’t want to kick out a member of their party, especially if they remain either a slim majority or minority party. They could simply let Murkowski keep her position on the ENR Committee, perhaps even as a ranking member, and then hope she forgives and forgets.
Scenario 3: McAdams wins
Lost in all the discussion about Murkowski, the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and Joe Miller is that McAdams has a serious chance of winning the Senate seat. This would be the Democratic equivalent of Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee, is already on the record saying, a Democratic victory in Alaska would be “a disaster.” McAdams has been running on a greener platform than Miller or Murkowski. McAdams often talks about preserving Alaska’s natural resources, which is completely different from Miller whose latest idea is “Earmarks for ANWR.” A McAdams victory would allow Republicans to place a more “standard” party member on the ENR Committee, but at the same time it would practically neutralize the legitimacy of Palin and the Tea Party. I can’t imagine Republicans continuing to take a hands-off approach to Palin and the Tea Party if they cost Republicans a Senate seat in one of the reddest states in the nation.
Scenario 4: Miller wins
For Republicans, this is the easiest and perhaps best scenario, though it does come with some challenges. A Miller victory means the Republicans hold on to a seat. A Miller victory eliminates any need for the Republican members to set themselves aside from either Palin or the Tea Party. They won’t have to deal with Murkowski “going rogue,” and presumably Miller will be a rubber stamp for the Republican agenda for the next few years. On the other hand, a Miller victory adds legitimacy to the Tea Party, adds legitimacy to Palin, and the Republican Party will have to deal with the potential of catering to a narrow block of Republicans who rose to power because of the Tea Party and its queen. This could backfire. It would eliminate all moderates in the Republican Party as they head into a general election where Barack Obama is on the top of the ballot. Also, what do you do with Miller if he is elected? The guy has already been a loose cannon on the campaign trail in Alaska. Imagine the press he will bring to Republicans if you unleash this guy in Washington for the next six years.
Alaska may have a small population, and may be the last frontier of America, but what happens in Alaska on Nov. 2 certainly won’t stay in Alaska.