12 November 2010

How do you spell winner?

Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski seems likely to be re-elected in the first victory for a write-in candidate in an American federal election since 1954.

Murkowski lost the Republican nomination to Joe Miller, a challenger with backing from the Tea Party movement and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Murkowski decided to seek re-election but Alaskan election rules, voters would have to write her name on the ballot.

Double problem.

Although Murkowski she had been appointed to the senate by her father – governor Frank Murkowski – and although, she’d already won re-election in 2004, there was still a chance voters might not be able to spell her name correctly. In a two-way fight between a red Republican and a blue Democrat, voters could vote for colour or party and still get their choice regardless of how the candidate’s name looked on the ballot. A write-in candidacy could hinge on the accuracy with which voters rendered her name.

The Republican primary and the narrow Tea Party victory also foreshadowed a tough legal challenge to a third candidate.  Take this third party ad as a typical example of the anti-Murkowski war from the campaign:

Murkowski’s campaign used a simple television spot to push the spelling of her name and get across the reminder that she was the incumbent:

She campaign also used a 17 second video that showed how to vote for a write-in candidate. Her campaign uploaded 61 videos to her youtube account, most of them fairly simple productions with high production values.  In other words, they weren’t expensive to make and told a simple story very effectively.  Most noticeably they were positive.  Even an ad that pointed to problems in her opponents finished on a positive note and let the other guy’s words tie a potential noose around his neck.

The same couldn’t be said for Joe Miller’s stuff. The music in an anti-Murkowski spot remains dark and foreboding even when discussing Miller’s positives. There are – of course – spots on Miller’s youtube account that touch on the media persecution message popular among some conservatives and a core part of the Tea Party’s messaging.

The Alaska Daily News account of one incident includes some video of a confrontation that appears to involve conventional news media and security hired by the Miller campaign. The episode would be familiar to anyone who watched the federal Conservative campaign in the 2005-2006 Canadian general election.

The write-in ballots are the last to be counted in an election that still hasn’t been declared for either of the three candidates.  By some accounts, there are enough write-in ballots and enough of those for Murkowski to give her the election. Republican candidate Miller continues to battle hard by challenging the validity of individual ballots and accusing state officials of favouritism in the counting.

- srbp -