Politico reports that Sen. Lisa Murkowski is close to making a decision on whether to run as a write-in candidate in Alaska, having narrowly failed to win the Republican primary. According to Politico, the indications seem to be that she will go forward with a write-in campaign.
As a general matter, I don’t have a problem with Senators who lose their primary running for re-election anyway. Senators must cast difficult votes; they can’t just posture like their challengers frequently do. If their choices alienate their party but not the state’s electorate as a whole, they may deserve re-election or at least the opportunity to see whether the electorate wants them re-elected.
For example, it made sense for Joe Lieberman to run as an independent for the U.S Senate after his courageous stand in favor of succeeding in Iraq — vindicated in my opinion by subsequent events — caused him to lose the Democratic primary in 2006. Lieberman was the Senator from Connecticut, not the Senator from the Democratic voters of Connecticut, and he had every right to see whether the voters of Connecticut wanted him to remain in the Senate.
But Lieberman’s decision didn’t present any risk that the seat would fall into the hands of the Republican candidate. Similarly, in Florida Charlie Crist’s decision to run doesn’t open the seat up for Democrat Kendrick Meek (though Crist himself may caucus with the Dems).
In Alaska, however, I wonder whether Murkowski’s candidacy might give the Democratic candidate a shot at winning. If so, she should sit the race out. Even if regard for one’s party doesn’t require deferring to the wishes of the party’s voters, it should require not tipping a race to the other party. This is especially true when control of the Senate hangs in the balance, as it well may this year.
If Murkowski really did lose the Alaska primary because her supporters didn’t turn out, then she should be able to win the Republican nomination four years from now and challenge the incumbent Democrat at that time. Alternatively, she can leave the party and run in four years as a third-party candidate. But this year, her focus should be on helping the Republican party hold her seat in order to stop the Obama-Reid-Pelosi steamroller. In a two-way race, Joe Miller holds the seat for the Republicans. In a three way race, I don’t think it’s clear that the Democrat loses.
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