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The dynamics in the Alaska Senate race were changed dramatically when Sen. Lisa Murkowski was upset in the Aug. 24 GOP primary by Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller. While we're not convinced that national Democrats will commit the level of resources needed to make the race competitive, CQ Politics is moving the rating of the race from Safe Republican to Likely Republican to reflect the new uncertainty of the open-seat contest.
Murkowski conceded the race Tuesday, one week after the primary, when she failed to cut into Miller's lead after a majority of the outstanding ballots had been counted. That decision secured the nomination for the previously unknown Miller and immediately provided a sense of opportunity for some Democrats.
However, Democratic nominee Scott McAdams is no better known than Miller, and at this point it remains unclear how effective the mayor of Sitka can be as a candidate. Both nominees now face a critical month of fundraising before the Sept. 30 third-quarter deadline. As of Aug. 4, McAdams had raised just less than $17,000 and he had $59,000 in his campaign account. Miller had $84,000 in cash on hand and debts of $108,000 on Aug. 4.
McAdams and Miller have both made moves in the past week to demonstrate they are serious about winning the race. McAdams hired Susanne Fleek-Green, the state director for freshman Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), to help with his campaign. Begich's deputy chief of staff, Leslie Ridle, is also helping out as a volunteer.
Miller, meanwhile, has hired Washington, D.C.-based GOP fundraiser Mike Gula to help jump-start his collection of campaign money. Miller should be able to raise money in short order, as Senate Republican leaders will be heavily involved in helping direct dollars to his campaign.
It is less certain that Democrats will direct money to McAdams' coffers or whether the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee believes the race is competitive enough to spend valuable party resources. Democrats must decide how to divide their money among as many as 12 competitive seats the party is working to hold, as well as seven Republican-held seats they want to win. Although Alaska is a relatively inexpensive state in terms of TV advertising, vulnerable incumbents in Democratic-leaning states could become discouraged if they see the DSCC spending its resources on an underfunded candidate in a conservative state.
Based on that and the underlying Republican nature of the state, there are too many questions to rate this race any more competitive than likely Republican. But with Murkowski out, the game has certainly changed.