GOP worries Murkowski write-in bid could cost party a Senate seat

Republican leaders are angry with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for jeopardizing their chances of winning the Senate. 

Murkowski’s decision to mount a write-in campaign risks splitting the Republican vote between two candidates and could cost her party a safe GOP seat.

“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,” Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Monday.

 “Both in Delaware and in Alaska now, it's less likely than it was just two weeks ago. And looking at how we might try to regain control of the Senate, that's the part that bothers me,” Kyl said.

In Delaware, Christine O’Donnell’s win in the GOP primary over Rep. Mike Castle (R) has turned what appeared to be a Republican pick-up into a seat Democrats are likely to hold, according to The Cook Political Report.

Kyl and other Republicans tried to talk Murkowski, a member of the party’s Senate leadership, out of her decision. During a Senate GOP lunch on Thursday, they warned they could not support her challenge of Joe Miller, who won the Republican primary. Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams is the Democratic nominee for Murkowski’s seat.

The pleas of GOP leaders fell on deaf ears a day later, when Murkowski announced her plans to proceed with the write-in candidacy.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) also reacted coldly to Murkowski’s decision. In a terse statement Friday night, he reported Murkowski has been removed as vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference.

“By choosing to run a campaign against the Republican nominee, she no longer has my support for serving in any leadership roles, and I have accepted her letter of resignation from Senate leadership,” McConnell said in the statement.

Republicans said the decision wasn’t personal, but made clear they are cutting their ties.

“It’s strictly business,” a senior GOP aide said. “She’s running against a Republican. She’s no longer one of us. Period.”

As a write-in candidate, Murkowski is now running against history.

Only one U.S. senator has ever won a general election as a write-in candidate — Strom Thurmond, in 1954. Associate Senate Historian Betty Koed said the former South Carolina governor, who was then a Democrat, was coaxed out of retirement to challenge his party’s own nominee, and won with 63 percent of the vote. Thurmond won in part by handing out pencils with his name on them to voters.

Write-in candidacies in the Senate have been tried eight other times in the Senate’s 220-year history, according to Koed, with only one candidate, Nebraska independent George Norris, surviving the primary process. He lost in the general election in 1936.

Two other candidates waged standalone unsuccessful general-election bids, and five others tried and failed as write-in candidates at the primary level.

The odds aren’t much better in the House, where only four representatives have ever won general elections as write-in candidates in the 20th century, the only period for which such records are kept by the House Office of History and Preservation. The foursome: Republican Charles Curry (Calif.) in 1930, Independent Thomas Alford (Ark.) in 1958, Republican Joseph Skeen (N.M.) in 1980 and Republican Ron Packard (Calif.) in 1982.

Jennifer Duffy, a senior analyst at The Cook Political Report, pointed out Monday that eight candidates have mounted write-in bids since Alaska became a state in 1959, with all eight failing. Duffy also noted that Murkowski can expect no help from state or national party infrastructure and still needs consultants, pollsters and media representatives.

Still, Duffy acknowledges that Murkowski has impressive name recognition and about $1 million in unspent funds.

“There is a path to victory for Murkowski, but it is an extremely steep one,” Duffy said.

A Murkowski victory will require voters to write in her name and check a corresponding oval. In her announcement on Friday, she acknowledged the difficulty but denied it was impossible.

“Alaskans can’t figure out how to fill in an oval and spell M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I ?” she said.

Other congressional GOP leaders on Monday said their party was united and predicted success in Alaska.

“I think there’s a great deal of clarity emerging,” Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said in a “Fox News” interview. “I don’t think her candidacy is going to affect the outcome in Alaska. I think Joe Miller will be elected.”

This story was originally posted at 5:57 p.m. and updated at 8:03 p.m.

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