Alaskan Senate Race: Pressure on Murkowski Third Party Run

As a tight vote count continues in the Last Frontier's Senate race, The Daily Beast's Shushannah Walshe reveals that Republicans are quietly testing a third-party path for Lisa Murkowski.

Joe Miller, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, and his wife Kathleen. (Michael Dinneen / AP Photo)

The count in the Alaskan Senate Republican primary continues for the second day with Joe Miller still in the lead, but the drama is heating up. The Daily Beast has learned exclusively that an individual independent of Lisa Murkowski’s campaign has commissioned a poll to see how she would fare if she ran as a third-party candidate under the Libertarian Party.

The poll is being commissioned by Andrew Halcro, a former Republican state legislator, Murkowski supporter, and Sarah Palin critic. He ran against Palin in the 2006 governor’s race as an independent in both the primary and general election. He also used to have a blog focusing on political issues and was the first to question if Palin had abused her power when she fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, leading to the Troopergate investigation.

Halcro has reached out to other local Republicans to help fund the poll, which will be done by GOP pollster David Dittman starting this weekend.

In an email message, Joe Miller responded to the news of the survey, “There already was a poll. It's called a primary.”

“I think [Murkowski’s] got to get out there because I think in a wider open field with a weak Democratic candidate and the other choice being Joe [Miller] on the extreme, I think Lisa has a shot and she has money in the bank and she has name-recognition,” Halcro said.

Shushannah Walshe: Joe Miller's Start in Alaskan Politics Alaska Senate Race: Will Murkowski Run As Third Party Candidate? Halcro wants to encourage Murkowski to join the Libertarian line if she does not make up her ballot deficit when the counting of absentee ballots is completed September 8.

But the race is getting nasty. According to documentation received by The Daily Beast, Joe Miller’s legal counsel, Thomas Van Flein, has filed a formal protest with the Alaska Division of Elections against a Murkowski campaign absentee-ballot observer.

Van Flein sent a letter to Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai and asked that Bonnie Jack be “disbarred as a qualified observer in any region for the duration of this primary and general campaign year.”

Van Flein alleges that Jack “used confidential voter information outside the voter observation confines and called a voter to resurrect a disqualified ballot.”

Halcro said he believes the poll will show that Murkowski can pull off a third-party run, even on the Libertarian line, “It will be a snapshot of her positives and negatives after the primary and it’s going to be statewide, all voters, because the polls up to now have been only those who have been able to keep the Republican ballot so now we are going to look at a wider picture.”

It’s not clear if the Murkowski camp knows about the poll and they were not available for comment. Halcro spoke to Murkowski Thursday morning, but did not tell her about the poll. Halcro said Murkowski is positive the absentee ballots will put her over the edge, “Lisa said she is still very optimistic that the votes are going to come her way.”

Halcro said he believes that Murkowski has eight days after she finds out whether she beat Miller or not to strike a deal with the Libertarians.

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At the moment, Miller leads by 1,668 votes and the Alaska Division of Elections is counting absentee ballots. Some 16,000 ballots were requested and mailed out and by Thursday they had received back about 9,500. The deadline to receive ballots from the state and from the rest of the country is September 3 and for military and overseas ballots, September 8. All ballots must be postmarked by August 24th, Election Day. According to the Division of Elections, in addition to the potential 16,000 ballots that could return by September 8th, the Division of Elections is also counting in-person absentee ballots or early voting, ballots cast by individuals that are elderly or were not healthy enough to make it to the polls on Tuesday, and faxed ballots. Sources in the room where they are counting the votes say almost 80 percent of the returned ballots are Republican, a positive sign for Murkowski.

Dittman confirmed that although he is still working on the questionnaire, he would begin polling this weekend and it would last for about five days with results expected next week. Both Halcro and Dittman say that this is being done completely independent of the Murkowski campaign. This is an important point because it could be construed as an illegal campaign contribution if Halcro commissioned the poll for the Murkowski camp, which they stress they are not doing.

“I did talk to [Halcro] about doing a survey not for one candidate, but what would be the likely outcome if it were a three-person race with Lisa as one of the candidates and Joe Miller and Scott McAdams as the other candidates,” Dittman said. “This is something Andrew is doing independently of the campaign because it is something he is interested in.”

In an email message, Joe Miller responded to the news of the survey, "There already was a poll. It's called a primary."

Dittman doesn’t believe this shows a larger Republican Establishment effort to boost Murkowski over Miller. “It is not a great deal of money. It’s not a massive subscription,” Dittman said. “It’s not a massive or major effort.”

And the Alaska Libertarian Party is open to the idea of replacing their Senate candidate David Haase with Murkowski. The Libertarian line is the only third-party option for Murkowski because they are the only third party with a candidate in the race.

“We are intelligent human beings and we are going to consider all the options. We are going to advance the cause of freedom. We are going to pick the way that advances the cause of freedom,” Alaska Libertarian Party Chairman Scott Kohlaas said. “We are being crucified by people in our movement for leaving the door open, but the door is open.”

Haase also seemed to be amenable to the idea, but not as open as Kohlaas.

“I’m a person on a mission and I’m supporting the people’s bailout and I don’t know that Murkowski could support the people’s bailout. I don’t even know she understands it,” Haase said. Haase explained that the people’s bailout is his plan to nationalize the Federal Reserve and eliminate the country’s debt.

In another wrinkle to the unfolding drama, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is sending a lawyer, Sean Cairncross, to Alaska. The Washington Post reported he will provide guidance to Murkowski, but Executive Director Rob Jesmer has also spoken to Miller, pledging support if he does win. Alaska Republicans confirmed to The Daily Beast that Cairncross will arrive Friday.

“We've read reports that the NRSC is either sending out a team of lawyers or a lawyer to help challenge ballots to potentially skew the election in favor of Lisa Murkowski. We intend to monitor this development closely and ensure the integrity of the democratic process and Joe Miller's victory,” said Miller’s legal counsel Thomas Van Flein.

Van Flein, who is also the Palin family lawyer, is observing the absentee ballot counting for the Miller camp. One of the observers for Murkowski is campaign manager John Bitney. Almost all of the people involved in this ongoing primary battle are connected, whether negatively or positively, to Sarah Palin.

Van Flein battled the Troopergate investigations and the ethics complaints that Palin points to driving her out of office. Halcro, Palin’s nemesis, was skewered in Palin’s book Going Rogue as was John Bitney. Bitney ran her successful 2006 campaign for governor and worked in her administration, but was dismissed after a falling out. Murkowski and her family have also long battled Palin. In 2006, Palin defeated Frank Murkowski in the Republican gubernatorial primary and the testy relationship continued up through Palin’s resignation last July from the governorship, when Lisa Murkowski released a statement saying she was “deeply disappointed” that Palin had chosen to “abandon the state and her constituents.”

Although this fight is between Murkowski and Miller, Palin’s influence on the race and almost everyone involved reflects her continuing influence in her home state.

Shushannah Walshe is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.