For Democrats, Republican primaries are the gift that keeps on giving.
Just as a Nevada Republican primary result renewed the reelection prospects of Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, just as a Connecticut GOP vote handed advantages to Democrat Richard Blumenthal, so an Alaskan primary has positioned Democrats to try for an upset on the Arctic Circle.
If there was one Senate race in the country that was not expected to be competitive this year, it was the contest in Alaska.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski was seeking a second full term, with a moderately conservative track record and one of the state’s biggest political names. She was never beloved by the far right, yet she had the political skills and the style that made it likely she would win Republican, independent and perhaps even a few Democratic votes in November.
But Murkowski appears to have lost a Republican primary where, with a boost from former Governor Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement, political newcomer Joe Miller has taken the lead.
Murkowski is refusing to concede and preparing for a fight—initially over absentee ballots that are yet to be counted and then via the recount process—that could extend well into the fall. National Republicans are moving to aid Murkowski, while Sarah Palin and the Tea Partisans are lining up behind Miller in what could turn out to be a bitterly divisive battle to settle a close primary.
If Miller ends up as the nominee, as seems likely, things will get interesting in Alaska—a state where, it should be noted, Democrats capitalized on a series of unfortunate events to dislodge a sitting US Senator in 2008.
Here’s why Democrats are rethinking the Alaska race?
1. Murkowski is mad. She refuses to rule out the prospect of running as a write-in or independent candidate in November. And Alaska has rich traditions of supporting renegade candidacies; indeed, when former Alaska Governor Walter Hickel fell out with conservative Republicans in 1990, he won a term as the candidate of the Alaska Independence Party.
2. Even if Murkowski does not make an independent or write-in run, a refusal by her to back Miller could weaken his bid.
3. Miller is an extreme player whose current stances on economic and social issues may have struck the fancy of the hard-right voters who dominated the Republican primary but who are not in touch with mainstream voters.
4. As recently as last month, Miller was calling for phasing out Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. The Anchorage Daily News reported that: “Miller has called for across-the-board cuts, phasing out government Medicare and Social Security, and getting rid of the federal Department of Education because it is not in the Constitution, leaving the function to the states.” Says Miller: “Ultimately, we’ve got to transition out of the Social Security arrangement and go into more of a privatization. And you know, it’s not that radical of an idea.”