Can Murkowski Win As A Write In Candidate ? Don’t Say “No” Just Yet

While it will be difficult, the idea that Lisa Murkowski could win a write-in bid to retain her Senate seat is not at all implausible.

Despite Sarah Palin’s assessment, Nate Silver argues that it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility for Lisa Murkowski to win a write-in campaign in November but he also warns that we shouldn’t necessarily trust any of the polling that we see over the next six weeks:

Can Ms. Murkowski win? Sure she can. There is plenty of precedent for write-ins being elected to the Congress, although fewer have done so successfully in recent years. Meanwhile, a poll by Public Policy Polling found Ms. Murkowski getting 34 percent of the vote against Mr. Miller’s 38 percent and Mr. McAdams’ 22 percent. Private polling has also shown Ms. Murkowski running closely with Mr. Miller, according to The Hotline.

These polls must be approached with some caution. The survey from Public Policy Polling, for instance, asked voters to contemplate what they would do if Ms. Murkowski’s name appeared on the ballot as a Libertarian — rather than as a write-in.

The extent to which Ms. Murkowski, as a write-in, will sacrifice votes she otherwise might have received is unclear. Some voters might forget that she is running, or they might find it too cumbersome to fill out her name. Others might desire to do so, but might fill out their ballots incorrectly.

Silver compares Murkowski’s bid to that of Shelly Sekula-Gibbs, who ran as a write-in candidate in Tom DeLay’s old district after he was forced to resign due to an ethics scandal. Pre-election polling showed Gibbs winning against her Democratic opponent. On Election Day, however, Gibbs lost by eight percentage points. The main reason for this, most likely, was the difficulty that voters encounter in casting a write-in ballot. As Silver notes, however, Murkowski has advantages that Gibbs did not:

The situations of Ms. Sekula-Gibbs and Ms. Murkowski are not directly comparable. Ms. Murkowski, whose father served as Senator and Governor of Alaska from 1981 through 2006, has near-universal name recognition in Alaska, whereas Ms. Sekula-Gibbs — who had previously been a member of the Houston City Council — did not. And, as The Times reported, Alaska’s elections secretary, Gail Fenumiai, is prepared to take a fairly liberal interpretation of voter intent. Ballots that misspell Ms. Murkowski’s surname would probably be counted, for instance, and so might ballots that identified her by her given name (e.g. “Lisa M.”).

Ms. Murkowski also has plenty of access to money; she had more than $1.8 million in cash-in-hand as of early August, although it is unclear how much of it she spent in the late stages of the primary campaign against Mr. Miller.

Finally, Alaska has a large number of independents. A plurality of 42 percent of Alaskans identified themselves that way in exit polling in 2008, one of the highest percentages in the country. Thus, an independent candidacy like Ms. Murkowski’s has a natural constituency of sorts.

The question, of course, is what Murkowski brings to the race that her Democratic and Republican opponents don’t. Quite honestly, that’s hard to say. Which is why I would expect her campaign to be about the independent streak that Alaska is known for.

Will it work ? I tend to agree with Steven Taylor and, yes, Sarah Palin, that it won’t. However, in a year that has been filled with the unexpected, I would not say it’s entirely impossible for Lisa Murkowski to become the first Senator elected by a write-in vote since Strom Thurmond in 1954.

One thing is for certain, the Senate election in Alaska will not be decided on Election Night, and probably not for a long time thereafter. There will be a substantial number of write-in votes to count and, no doubt, a substantial number of disputes over whether a given write-in vote should actually be counted in Murkowski’s favor (“Lisa Murkowski” would count, for example, but what about simply  “Murkowski,” or “Lisa Murkoski,” or “Lisa M,” or “Senator Lisa” ? Depending on how close the vote is, we could see a repeat of the Coleman-Franken fight from the 2008 Senate Election in Minnesota, and Alaska’s junior (or is it Senior ?) Senate seat may not be filled when the new Congress convenes in January.

In other words, get out the popcorn.

Update: Ed Morrissey disagrees with Nate, and with me, and argues that Murkowski’s bid is likely to be little more than a flash in the pan:

The most recent attempt came in 1998, in the gubernatorial race. Nick Begich, Jr — whose father was a US Congressman until his tragic 1972 plane crash and whose brother won a US Senate seat in 2008 — ran a write-in campaign that netted a whopping 579 votes. That didn’t even qualify as the best write-in campaign of the race, though, as Wayne Ross won 801 votes. Robin Taylor got over 40,000 write-in votes for governor in that race, but Taylor had the GOP endorsement; they had to withdraw their endorsement of the nominee because of a fundraising scandal and tried to get voters to write in Taylor instead. Even with GOP backing of the write-in campaign and a last name people could spell easily, Taylor got less than 19% of the vote.

In that election, Taylor had the advantage of having a party endorsement and not having run afoul of the very voters he needed in the primary. Lisa Murkowski has never been terribly popular with Alaskans, not since her father appointed her to the Senate seat she holds. She won in 2004, mainly due to the overwhelming support for George Bush in Alaska. She just lost her primary, which means more than half of the people who would normally be inclined to vote for the Republican didn’t want her in the general election anyway. Murkowski offered no compelling reason to vote for her in the primary, and the only compelling reason for the write-in bid seems to be that Lisa Murkowski likes living in Washington DC.

Ed may turn out to be right, and in a normal year I would be saying much the same thing I think.

But, there are those words…….in a normal year………Murkowski isn’t a tea party candidate by any stretch, but she has long roots in Alaska and a lot of money ($ 1.8 million is a big deal in Alaska). This isn’t a normal year, and anything can happen. Besides, I learned my lesson about making predictions of impending doom for candidates when it comes to elections in Alaska.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James says:

    Career Politicians (Lifers) have brought us the current National debt of 14 Trillion in
    national debt or more. We need reform on both teams, Alaska has selected their first
    round draft pick, now we need a new Head Coach. Current Coach can’t, follow the (Constitution) play book.
    James from the flat lands of Texas

  2. swift boater says:

    As a NYer my conservatism is probably not as red as some others.  For example, when I read that a write in candidate must have their name spelled exactly right, that does make me angry and think it’s not fair and just a way to protect the establishment (Sekula-Gibbs is a perfect example, I think Gibbs or any phonetic misspelling would have sufficed).
    With that said in this case I think anyone who just writes in “Murkowski’ or “Murky’ or the like should be disqualified.  Due to the fact that there is another prominent political Murkowski in AK (her Dad, a former Senator and Governor) Miller can argue that vote was meant for him.  And all he needs is one voter to swear that is what he meant when he wrote it in and that should be the end of it.
    I vote “Lisa M’, “Sen Lisa” or the like should count for her tho.

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Doug you used the wrong verb to describe Lisa’s chances.  I would have used improbable as only Strom Thurmand was elected by write in, in the senate and Lisa Murkowski is no Thurmond.  She will appear or portrayed to be a bitter loser who cannot put the wishes of the voters ahead of her desire to retain power.

  4. tess says:

    Seems if Murkowski cannot be honest about saying she would honor whichever candidate
    had won – she cannot be trusted to honor any of the American Peoples wishes.
    I really do not think that it is Lisa Murkowski that is pushing to have the ‘WRITE IN”
    VOTE – I think that the RINOS and Democrats are making promises they never
    intend to keep with LISA.
    Lisa, be a lady and honor what you said before the vote – – Don’t dirty your name
    for a bunch of RINOS that fear they will lose their spot!

  5. M.Joseph Sheppard says:

    Isn’t it about time you gave up predicting anythng to do with Alaska and especially Palin? You of course flubbed Miller’s victory and on August 31st wrote this

    “Murkowski will not put her name on another party’s ballot and she will not mount a write-in campaign.” At least that is 50% right-a novel thing for you.

    Your quote above “One thing is for certain, the Senate election in Alaska will not be decided on Election Night, and probably not for a long time thereafter. ” is also going into the “save” basket and will be trotted out in november for you.
    Really,if your left wing bias is so getting in the way of your commentary perhaps you should issue a notice not to take anything you say seriously.