Seattle political consultant Cathy Allen, mastermind of many a winning Democratic campaign message, has flown to Alaska to help a Republican. She'll advise U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a longshot write-in campaign for re-election. Murkowski's own party turned her down in Alaska's Senate primary, in favor of Tea Party conservative Joe Miller.
Allen, who specializes in public policy communications, told Crosscut she's determined to help women reach positions of influence in Congress, and sees Murkowski as vital to that effort. "She's been a team builder in getting Democratic and Republican women Senators to talk to each other," Allen said. "It's really important to keep her there."
Allen's Connections Group web site says she has run or consulted more than 500 winning campaigns, 75 percent of them for women candidates. Most of them were Democrats. A long-time Alaska resident, Allen first met Murkowski in 1981 when she chaired Democrat Tony Knowles' campaign for mayor of Anchorage and Murkowski was campaign manager for Republican Speaker of the House Joe Hayes.
"We've been friends ever since," Allen told Crosscut. "Of all the Republican office holders I've met, Lisa's the easiest to talk to about common sense issues."
A write-in Senate campaign is a wispy venture. It has worked only once. That was when segregationist Strom Thurmond whipped Democratic Party nominee Edgar Brown in South Carolina, to become U.S. senator in 1954. But Murkowski may be positioned to make history. Fewer than 500,000 Alaskans are registered to vote. Under 34 percent bothered to do so in the Senate primaries in August. Even if twice that many turned out for the three-way general election, which seems unlikely, fewer than 120,000 write-ins could win it.
Republican Linda Smith won a write-in primary campaign for U.S. representative for Washington's 3rd Congressional District, starting as a virtual unknown only three weeks before the open primary of 1994. Smith convinced 34,038 voters to write her name on the ballot, and won the Republican nomination. She went on to beat Jolene Unsoeld in the general election and spent less than four years in the House before leaving to challenge Patty Murray, unsuccessfully, for the U.S. Senate.
While only Republicans could vote for Murkowski and Miller in Alaska's closed Republican primary, the senator will shoot for independent and Democratic support in the general election. Allen says part of her job will be to craft a message that persuades Democrats that Murkowski's a choice for them.
An early Rasmussen poll shows Miller leading impressively with 42 percent to Murkowski's 27, and Democratic candidate Scott McAdams at 25. However, it's hard to predict election results where there's a strong write-in candidate. Unknown factors abound. Spelling, for instance. It's one thing to write in Smith, it's another to spell Murkowski. Alaska partisans are sparring even now over leniency to be granted, or not, to voters trying to spell their senator's name in the voting booth, Nov. 2.
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