The latest poll I’ve seen from Alaska (by PPP on Oct. 9-10) shows essentially a dead heat between Joe Miller (35 percent) and Lisa Murkowski (33 percent). Democrat Scott McAdams polls 26 percent. Late last month, a CNN/Time poll also showed the race between Miller and Murkowski to be extremely tight — Miller 38, Murkowski 36, McAdams 22.
The problem for Murkowski, of course, is that her name doesn’t appear on the ballot. Not only must voters write her name in, they need to remember to fill in a bubble indicating that they are selecting a write-in candidate, if they want to vote for Murkowski. No one knows just how much of an obstacle these requirements will constitute, but they don’t seem inconsiderable to me.
Still, the question remains, why is Murkowski polling so well following her defeat in the Republican primary? Recall that, in Florida, Marco Rubio pulled away from Charlie Crist after Crist initially was ahead in the polls. This hasn’t happened in Alaska.
There are several possible explanations. One is that there hasn’t been enough time. It took Rubio a while to pull away from Crist. Murkowski has only been in the race as a third option for a short time. Maybe as election day approaches, she will fade in the polls, notwithstanding her strong name recognition. We’ll see.
A second possible explanation is that Miller is more conservative than Rubio. Sharron Angle, for one, seems to view Miller that way. But Alaska is a more conservative state than Florida, so it’s unlikely that Miller’s conservatism per se is what’s preventing him from breaking away.
There is an ideological issue that may be hurting Miller, though. Alaska is a major beneficiary of federal money. This reality tends to make earmarks more attractive even to some conservatives than they are elsewhere. This sentiment, in turn, tends to favor Murkowski.
A third possibility is that Miller simply isn’t as attractive a candidate as Rubio, and has failed to win the confidence of Alaskans outside of his core support group. In this regard, Miller has been the subject of a series of stories that, his detractors say, cast doubt on his character and his sincerity as a small government conservative.
For example, Miller apparently has said that his family of eight children received low-income medical benefits, even though he has criticized Murkowski for supporting such benefits. It has also been reported that Miller and his wife obtained state low-income hunting and fishing licenses after he took out a mortgage and started a $70,000 a year job.
Murkowski is hoping that the combination of Miller’s opposition to government largesse, coupled with evidence that he has taken advantage of it, will sour voters on Miller. Presumably, she is also hoping that the apparent rift between Miller and Todd Palin will play into her hands.
For his part, Miller is criticizing the press. And he has said he will not answer any more questions about his personal background for the rest of the campaign.
It may be difficult for Miller to “seal the deal” with Alaska voters if, as something of an unknown quantity, he refuses to answers such questions. However, considering the difficulty Murkowski faces as a write-in candidate, Miller may not need to seal the deal.
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