“It all really comes down to the dynamics of the acceptability of the existing people on the ballot and the acceptability of the person running the write-in, and the balance of those,” said Alaska-based independent pollster Ivan Moore. “It was a perfect storm.”
Besides the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R), perhaps no name is better-known than this one. It’s been attached to this Senate seat since 1980, when Murkowski’s father, Frank Hughes Murkowski, won his first of four terms.
The elder Murkowski was elected governor in 2002 and appointed his daughter, then a state Representative, to fill his Senate seat. Murkowski won a full term in 2004, then watched her father be defeated for re-election by then-Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin in the 2006 gubernatorial primary.
Had the Murkowski name not been so prevalent in Alaska for three decades, the Senator may not have been able to get more than 100,000 people to write it voluntarily on a ballot.
Murkowski also was a well-liked figure and boasted a 55 percent favorability rating in a poll taken just after her Sept. 17 write-in campaign announcement. Doing so was a last resort, as her only other option after losing the primary to Miller was to be drafted by the Libertarian Party, which the party declined to do.
“Alaskans can’t figure out how to fill in an oval and spell M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I?” the Senator asked in her stunning announcement speech. Those nine letters were repeated in television ads, campy YouTube videos and text messages to supporters as Murkowski launched an educational campaign, explaining how to fill in the oval on the ballot and write in her name.
She also went directly after Miller, a Yale-educated lawyer with no political experience who ultimately had a broader national base of conservative support than he had backing him in Alaska.
On Murkowski’s side in that effort was the amount of money she had left over from the primary. She reported nearly $2 million on hand in her pre-primary Federal Election Commission filing — though some of that was spent by the Aug. 24 contest, as it became clear that Miller had a serious shot of winning.
Most write-ins don’t enter the general with that kind of cash, and it’s worth betting that none has ever had the kind of financial backing from an outside group freed from federal regulations on spending.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Alaska Native corporations were able to form a political action committee called Alaskans Standing Together and donate unlimited funds to the PAC.
Alaskans Standing Together spent more than $1.2 million on Murkowski’s behalf and was listed as a top reason for the Senator’s success by every Alaska insider that spoke with Roll Call about the race. It acted in essence as a second campaign, running TV, radio and print ads; passing out buttons and wristbands; and making robocalls.
“In our state, a million dollars is an awful lot of money,” said Alaska-based Republican pollster Marc Hellenthal, who polled for the group. “If you have an independent group spending over a million dollars they can do a lot of damage.”
Some of that damage was self-imposed by Miller, whose campaign mishandled two events that insiders say severely affected the way voters saw him.
Miller’s personnel files from his work as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough were released a week before Election Day, rather than months earlier when four news organizations filed a lawsuit to have them released.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.