Monday, August 01, 2016

Race of the Day- Alaska U.S. Senate

98 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Safe Republican

Things must seem far more serene at home in Alaska for Senator Lisa Murkowski, after two previous campaigns that involved a lot of effort. Many thought that the moderate Republican would have to face a similar challenge this cycle, but she seems to have lucked out and not drawn serious opposition, with the primary now a couple weeks away.

A state legislative GOP leader, Murkowski came to her job in the Senate due to the appointment by her father, the state's newly elected Republican Governor, who had served in the Senate since 1980, in a state where seniority quite important. Cries of nepotism abounded, and it was a controversial appointment. Frank Murkowski would ultimately not win his party's renomination for Governor, but Lisa proved to be formidable in her own right, by beating the state's popular former Democrat Governor to win a full term.

As 2010 approaches, Murkowski was expected to have a fairly easy reelection, but her campaign overlooked the Tea Party backed challenge of former magistrate judge Joe Miller. With deep divisions internally in the Alaska GOP, the primary race came on the radar very late and she was edged out for the nomination. Just like that, it looked like Murkowski's Senate career had come to an end and questions arose as to whether the controversial Miller would be able to hold the seat for the GOP. Instead, the incumbent bet on a strategy that had only succeeded once before in U.S. history. With the strong support of establishment Republicans, Independents, plus a large number of Democrats, Murkowski sought to win the November general election as a write-in candidate. At first, many remarked that pulling off such a feat would be impossible, but she ultimately beat Miller by about four points, after all the write-ins were counted, with the Democrat nominee trailing further behind. She always maintained she would continue to caucus with Republicans on Capitol Hill, and the Senate leadership there seemed to be ok with her gambit.

Currently, Murkowski chairs the powerful Senate Energy Committee, and is one of the most powerful women in Congress. She has stated she is supporting the Republican Presidential nominee, but seems to go to some lengths not to mention Donald Trump's name.  A retired female Army Lt. Colonel, seeking the Senate seat as an Independent, is trying to appeal to centrists and anti-Trump Republicans by holding this endorsement against the incumbent.

Since her 2010 write-in win, many expected that Murkowski would face another primary challenge from the right, and that she might ultimately have to try to win as a write-in in the fall again. However, Miller declined a rematch opportunity and a strong primary challenger has not emerged. At one point, former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, the Republicans' 2014 Lt. Governor nominee (and who happens to also share the same exact name as the state's newly elected GOP Junior Senator) filed for the primary, and then pretty quickly withdrew. At this point, Murkowski looks secure for re-nomination, through three candidates, who have never been elected to office, are opposing her.

Democrats were also expected to be larger players in this race, especially with some Republican division over Murkowski. Freshman Mark Begich lost his Senate seat in the GOP wave of 2014, but seemed to have no appetite to try to challenge his former colleague. Two Democrats are facing off in the August primary. They are Edgar Blatchford, a former newspaper publisher, Mayor of Seward, and state Commerce Commissioner. He is opposed by Ray Metcalfe, a somewhat frequent candidate, who was once a Republican State Representative, who would go on to found an offshoot of the party for moderate Republicans, and is now campaigning as a pro-Bernie Sanders Democrat. A handful of independent and third party candidates will also appear on the Alaska ballot, which is pretty common for the state.

Whomever emerges to face Murkowski will not be able to come close to matching her fundraising or name recognition in the state. After having been through some tough battles to hold the Senate seat that she was given under unusual circumstances, for this year at least, she seems quite entrenched.

Murkowski campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far: 0 D, 2 R (2 Safe)
Overall predicted thus far: 36 D, 32 R


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