Even Murkowski Allies Wonder What She’s Doing

September 21, 2010 6:06 a.m.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski doesn’t want to lose her Senate seat, so at first she tried to win the primary fair-and-square, even avoiding going negative. Now that she’s a write-in candidate instead of on the ballot as a Republican, she’s shouting “extremist” from Alaska’s snowy mountaintops and using the same arguments against Republican nominee Joe Miller as the Democrats are. It seems like an obvious strategy — until you look at the numbers and listen to party operatives on both sides who say she just can’t win.

During her announcement Friday and in her media rounds Sunday, Murkowski launched what appeared to be the opening salvo against Miller, whose support from the tea party and Murkowski rival Sarah Palin propelled him to a surprise victory last month.But her comments also illustrated a deep divide within the Republican party, since Murkowski is going after Miller on some of the standard GOP issues — cutting Medicare, privatizing Social Security and for saying he won’t take earmarks. She told the Associated Press last night Miller is outside of the mainstream.

“She certainly has an interesting message for the current political climate, and it seems like a message that hasn’t been working,” a Republican Senate aide told TPM.

She’s getting some very bad advice from people who have let their emotions get involved instead of looking at the reality of the situation,” another Republican aide said.

Another Republican aide said it was baffling to see Murkowski running given that the GOP caucus formally urged her not to in a luncheon Thursday. “I don’t know there was any tangible evidence that made her decide to do this,” the Republican aide said. Murkowski told the AP she was still undecided hours before announcing her intentions. Republicans say they’ve yet to see a poll which shows Murkowski can become the first candidate ever in Alaska to win a write-in campaign.

A new Rasmussen Reports poll out this morning shows Miller would beat Murkowski and Democratic nominee Scott McAdams if the election were held today. The poll shows Miller 42%, Murkowski 27% and McAdams 25%. Republicans admit her bid complicates their map and makes it harder to keep the seat. Democrats still think McAdams has a shot, and Murkowski has $1 million — more than both of her rivals combined — in the bank.

Minority Whip Jon Kyl told reporters Monday that the whole affair could cost his party their chance at taking back the Senate.

“I am bothered by anything that makes it less likely that we can elect a Republican, especially in a state where we had every hope of electing one,” Kyl said Monday, according to The Hill. Kyl (R-AZ) said Murkowski’s move and Christine O’Donnell’s win in Delaware make it “less likely” for the GOP to win back the Senate.

Murkowski is giving voters a spelling lesson and proclaiming she has a chance to make “history.” She’s asked supporters to come up with “campaign materials, jingles, commercials, and slogans.” She also sent them a list of radio show hosts and newspaper editorial boards they can contact to support her cause.

Tea partiers have reacted in kind, calling Murkowski a “sore loser” and vowing to defeat her a second time. Her Republican colleagues and their staffers on Capitol Hill have politely declined to trash her, and have few words of support for Miller beyond promising to stand firmly behind the GOP nominee.

For her part, Murkowski complains Miller has said “some pretty radical things.” Then she unleashed garden-variety Democratic attacks. “You know, we dump Social Security, no more Medicare, let’s get rid of the Department of Education, elimination of all earmarks,” she said on CNN Sunday.

One Republican aide suggested Alaska might start looking like Florida — with booted Republican Charlie Crist tanking. “Charlie Crist made many of these same arguments. We’re seeing where he’s at in the polls,” the aide said.

One thing’s for sure, Sen. Jim DeMint isn’t missing Murkowski, and says her decision “puts this seat at serious risk.” In an email to supporters of his Senate Conservatives Fund this week, DeMint compared Murkowski to Crist and even Sen. Arlen Specter, who switched parties when he was facing defeat in a Republican primary.

“Lisa Murkowski is following in their footsteps,” he wrote. “Murkowski’s betrayal provides more proof that big-tent hypocrites don’t really care about winning a majority for Republicans. They only care about winning a majority for themselves.”

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