Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the most notable winner of recent election cycle, writes David S. Broder. She was first a victim and then a victor. She is also the first person elected to the Senate as an independent write-in candidate since Strom Thurmond won his seat in 1954.
WASHINGTON — If you have any doubts about the real meaning of this month’s midterm elections, let me refer you to the most notable winner in those tests. I am talking about Lisa Murkowski, the re-elected senator from Alaska.
The distinctive feature of the 2010 election was the energy generated among the voters by the combination of a severe economic recession and the widespread disillusionment with Washington and national politics as practiced by Barack Obama and both parties.
Murkowski was the most notable winner of the whole cycle because she was first a victim and then a victor. She is also the first person elected to the Senate as an independent write-in candidate since Strom Thurmond harnessed the racist forces in South Carolina in 1954 to win his seat.
The Murkowski saga began last summer when she was upset in the Alaska Republican primary by Joe Miller, an attorney who had campaigned as the endorsed choice of the tea party and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate.
Palin has conducted a vendetta against the Murkowski family and became governor four years ago by upsetting Lisa’s father, Frank Murkowski, in another low-turnout GOP primary.
Before he left office, Frank Murkowski appointed Lisa to a vacant Republican Senate seat, only to see her lose the nomination this year.
When she lost the primary, that was expected to be the end of her. Miller settled in for an easy race against a little-known Democrat in his Republican-leaning state. But Murkowski, with some notable help from anti-Palin elements and parts of the energy industry, decided to try a longshot write-in campaign.
It is difficult under any circumstances. With the state’s rather restrictive voter-identification system and the requirement of a thirteen-letter, five-syllable name to be correctly spelled, the chances of success seemed small.
When Murkowski was asked recently by reporter Judy Woodruff on the PBS “NewsHour” how she had overcome Palin’s endorsement of Miller to win, this is what she said.
“It is historic. It feels great.” She exalted that more than 100,000 Alaskans had written in her name and that her 10,000-vote margin over Miller was so large that even if all the votes he has challenged were thrown out, she would still win by more than 2,000 votes. Under the circumstances, Miller’s delay in conceding has no purpose, she said.
Then Woodruff asked what explained the outcome. Murkowski said, “Well, in an election, it’s all about what that candidate has to offer. Joe Miller was clearly appealing to that more conservative element. But, in our state, we have got over 54 percent of the electorate that chooses not to align themselves with any party at all, not Republican, not Democratic, not green, not anything.
“And, so, it was important to make sure that all Alaskans, regardless of your political stripe, felt that they had somebody who’s going to represent their best interests. I think that’s what this election was about. They wanted somebody who was going to be a consensus-builder, someone that was going to work to bring people together to really work to effectively govern.”
The demographics required that Murkowski seek support from Democrats and independents, as well as Republicans. But she said their expectations did not differ from group to group. “I think what they are looking for is the same thing that any Alaskan is looking for: Represent our state. Work together with people that have opposing viewpoints to build good policy that allows our state and our nation to go in a positive direction.
“I think that’s what voters are looking for. I don’t think that most are looking for somebody that is going to follow the litmus test of one party or another, and never deviate from it. I think they want us to think, and I think they want us to work cooperatively together. So, that’s my pledge to all Alaskans, regardless of whether you are the most conservative Republican or the most liberal Democrat, I’m going to try to find a way that we can find common ground to help the state and to help our country.”
Want to know what the election was about? That’s an authoritative answer.
David S. Broder’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com