Saturday, September 18, 2010

You Can Write It Down

US Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is now US Senate candidate Lisa Murkowski (IWR-AK). The "IWR" is for "Independent Write-In."

This could get interesting, in a horse-race cum train-wreck kind of way.

According to Wikipedia's article on write-ins, Strom Thurmond is the only US Senator ever elected as a write-in candidate.*

Could Murkowski become the second?

She's got a $1.5 million war chest. She won't be getting any more money from the national GOP. That doesn't mean she won't be getting any more money, but let's assume for the moment she's raised most of what she's going to have.

In 2008 -- a presidential year with an Alaskan on the GOP's national ticket, so probably high turnout -- about 320,000 votes were cast for US Senator. Let's guess the turnout at 300k for this November. It's a nice, round number and it's probably in the ballpark, maybe even a little high.

Can Murkowski snag 150,000 votes -- 50% -- if she spends $10 per vote? How about a 40% plurality (120,000 votes) at $12.50 a pop?

Here's a rough-in:

$400k for media -- radio, TV, newspaper, Internet.

If she has a good voter list and voter ID op, she can get out three mailers (the last one a sample ballot with a sticker to put on the real ballot if Alaska uses paper ballots) @ $2 each to the right 150,000 voters for $900k.

That leaves $100k, or about $230 for each of Alaska's 438 precincts, for Election Day signs and volunteer-distributed sample ballots/stickers.

And a final $100k for sundry expenses -- staff salaries, travel around Alaska to kiss hands and shake babies, etc.

That's if she doesn't raise another dime. I bet she'll raise quite a bit. If you were a corporate lobbyist how much would you pay to elect a US Senator beholden to you and not subject to edicts from "party leadership?" Those guys throw money at winners and losers. You don't have to be a sure thing to get their bucks, you just have to have decent odds, and Murkowski has better odds than many candidates.

Right now the polling makes it look like a Miller/Murkowski fight, but don't count on it staying that way. A month ago, it was a safe Republican seat. As of now the Democrats would be stupid not to throw some money into the mix and go for a surprise Senate pickup.

I don't know if Murkowski can win it, but she can sure as hell affect it.

* Of course, US Senators weren't elected by popular vote until after ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913 ... but prior to adoption of the "Australian ballot" in the late 19th century, a reasonable case could be made that all popularly elected officials, including US Representatives and presidential electors, were elected by "write-in." Most voters used pre-printed ballots given them by their parties of preference, but there was nothing to stop you from writing your ballot out by hand, and there were no government-printed ballots or rules for being "on the ballot."

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