A big night for the top of the 2008 ticket

John McCain and Sarah Palin must be loving life a whole more today than they did in November 2008. McCain crushed J.D. Hayworth in yesterday’s Arizona Senate primary. The margin was 56-32.
At one time, Hayworth was thought to have a shot at defeating McCain. However, it has been clear for a long while that McCain would win handily.
Alaska, though, is a very different story. According to Politco, not a single public poll showed the Palin-endorsed candidate Joe Miller within striking distance (i.e., 20 percentage points) of incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the weeks before the primary. It was for this reason that I discounted an internal poll from the Miller campaign that had him within 11 points of Murkowski. But even that poll indicated only a closer-than-expected Murkowski victory.
Yet now, with nearly all of the non-absentee ballots counted (as I understand the situation), Miller leads by more than 2 percentage points. This does not mean he has won. Early this morning, Politico noted that there were more than 16,000 absentee ballots still out – more than eight times the 2,000 vote-margin that separated Murkowski and Miller [note: 16,000 absentee ballots were requested but apparently only around 7,600 were returned]. In 2008, Mark Begich overcame Ted Stevens’ lead of 3,000 votes by virtue of the absentee vote. However, there were approximately 60,000 absentee ballots in that election.
Accordingly, Miller seems to be in the driver’s seat, though not home and dry.
But even if Murkowski pulls the election out, it will still, I think, be a big victory for Sarah and Todd Palin. Given Murkowski’s stature and the enormous lead she enjoyed before the Palins jumped into the race, even a narrow Miller defeat would confirm the Palins’ status as the one and only grizzly family in Alaska.
The Palin endorsement wasn’t the only factor that weighed in Miller’s favor. The ballot contained a parental-notification law that helped drive turnout. Supporters of this highly popular resolution tended to prefer Miller to Murkowski who, although she supported the measure, has taken pro-choice positions on other issues.
Even so, there isn’t much doubt that if Sarah Palin had backed Murkowski as she did initially, or even if she had remained neutral, Murkowski would be relaxing right now, and planning her general election campagin, instead of anxiously awaiting the counting of absentee ballots.
As for the general election, the Democratic candidate will be Scott McAdams, the mayor of the small town of Sitka. After last night’s results, I should probably refrain from further predictions about Alaska politics. For what it’s worth, though, I expect McAdams to struggle against either Miller (a Gulf War veteran, Yale law school grad, successful attorney, and former judge) or Murkowski in a year like this one.

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