Alaska Incumbent Faces Few Back-Up Plans if Defeated

Posted August 27, 2010 at 4:47pm

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s options for getting on the general-election ballot would be limited if she ends up losing her primary to challenger Joe Miller.

The incumbent Alaska Republican currently trails Miller, a Fairbanks attorney, by more than 1,600 votes. But 20,000 absentee and “questioned” ballots remain uncounted, according to Gail Fenumiai, director of the state’s Division of Elections. That figure includes overseas ballots “that are still coming in chunks,” Fenumiai said.

Alaska law requires that all ballots be counted by Sept. 8, and counting will begin Aug. 31.

If Murkowski loses, she would have two options to compete in the general election — neither of them particularly easy in terms of providing her with a competitive way to stay in the Senate race. She could run as a write-in candidate or run as the nominee for another political party that has already secured a slot on the Nov. 2 ballot. To run as a write-in candidate, Murkowski would need to file a letter of intent no later than five days before the general election.

Running as the nominee for another party would require her to receive the nod of the Libertarian Party, the only one besides the GOP and the Democratic Party to have a ballot line for this year’s Senate general election. But first, that would require Alaska Libertarian Party nominee David Haase to drop out. The party would then have the option of nominating someone else. The switch would need to happen no later than Sept. 15 — 48 days before Election Day, according to state law.

Murkowski, the Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman, said Wednesday that it was too early to discuss whether she would try to run on a third-party ticket. However, she would have just one week from the end of ballot counting to make that decision.

Sources confirmed Friday that Murkowski has spoken with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) since Tuesday’s as-yet-undecided election, but it was unclear what they discussed.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is taking pains to maintain its neutrality in the contest, although the NRSC did dispatch chief counsel Sean Cairncross to Alaska at Murkowski’s request.

Cairncross is expected to be on the ground for a few days to advise the Murkowski campaign, but sources said the NRSC had no plans to coordinate any potential recount that might occur — nor does the committee intend to advocate in any way on the Senator’s behalf while the remaining outstanding votes are tallied.