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Run, Murkowski, Run? A Historical Review of Alaskan Statewide Write-in Campaigns

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No Alaskan candidate for statewide office has won more than 27 percent in a write-in campaign; Senator Ernest Gruening's model for potential Murkowski write-in candidacy netted just 17 percent in 1968

Below is a partial reprint of a Smart Politics report posted last August providing a historical review of Alaskan statewide write-in campaigns.

Although a Republican primary loss ended the long political career of her father Frank Murkowski in his 2006 bid for a second term as governor, chatter is increasing that Senator Lisa Murkowski will indeed launch an independent write-in candidacy today in her attempt to win a third term in D.C. this November.

The problem for Murkowski is not simply that only one U.S. Senator in history has been elected via a write-in campaign (Strom Thurmond won 63.1 percent of the vote in South Carolina's 1954 Senate race).

The problem is that Alaska politicians have already attempted this feat for statewide offices several times over the past 50 years without success.

A Smart Politics analysis of data from the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and State of Alaska Division of Elections finds there have been eight general election write-in campaigns for statewide office in Alaska over the past 26 election cycles dating back to 1958.

Two of these campaigns were for U.S. Senate seats.

The first occurred in 1958, when the Last Frontier State elected its inaugural pair of U.S. Senators. During the election for its Class II seat, Keith Capper received 599 write-in votes (1.2 percent) to place third out of three candidates in a race won by Democrat Bob Bartlett.

The other case involves Alaska's other inaugural Senator, Democrat Ernest Gruening, who was formerly a Territorial Governor of Alaska from 1939 to 1953.

Gruening, a longtime opponent of the Vietnam War who was one of two Senators to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, was reelected in 1962 with 58 percent of the vote, but failed to receive his party's nomination in 1968.

Gruening won 47.1 percent of the Democratic primary vote held that August, losing to Alaska's Speaker of the House Mike Gravel by 5.8 points.

Senator Gruening did not exit quietly, however, and launched a write-in campaign that netted him 14,118 votes on Election Day, winning 17.4 percent of the vote for third place out of three candidates, with Gravel prevailing.

It has now been 42 years since Gruening's failed write-in candidacy - the last such attempt for a U.S. Senate seat in Alaska.

Senator Murkowski is the current holder of Gruening's old Class III Senate seat.

But in the meantime there have also been six gubernatorial write-in candidacies in Alaska, beginning with that of a former Governor, Wally Hickel, in 1978.

Nearly 10 years after he resigned as Alaska's second governor to become Richard Nixon's Secretary of the Interior, Hickel launched a write-in campaign for his old job in 1978.

Hickel had lost the GOP primary that August by a mere 98 votes to his political rival, Jay Hammond. (Hickel had also previously lost the 1974 Republican primary to Hammond, but by a much wider margin of 7,874 votes).

In the 1978 general election, Hickel was able to notch a state record that still stands today, winning 26.4 percent of the vote as a write-in candidate (33,555 votes). Hickel placed second out of five candidates, 12.6 points behind Hammond.

Eight years later, in 1986, Hickel lost his third GOP gubernatorial primary, this time to Arliss Sturgulewski by 2,007 votes.

Hickel went on to receive 4,958 write-in votes (2.8 percent) in that November's general election won by Democrat Steve Cowper. Hickel's tally was good for fourth place out of six candidates, including Ed Hoch, another write-in candidate who received just 107 votes for sixth place (0.1 percent).

The last election cycle with write-in candidacies for a statewide office in Alaska took place during the 1998 gubernatorial race.

Republican State Senator Robin Taylor lost that year's GOP primary by 7,391 votes to nominee John Lindauer.

However, the Alaska Republican Party withdrew support from Lindauer just a few weeks before the general election after a dust-up involving the source of Lindauer's campaign funding. The GOP then backed Taylor as a write-in candidate.

Taylor did win 40,209 write-in votes - the most in state history - but his 18.3 percent showing was far behind that of one-term Democratic incumbent, Tony Knowles, who won with 51.3 percent of the vote.

Taylor came in second place among eight candidates, including write-in candidates Wayne Ross (801 votes, 0.4 percent, 7th place), who had come in a close third in the GOP primary, and Nick Begich, Jr. (579 votes, 0.3 percent, 8th place).

Write-In Candidacies in Alaskan Statewide General Elections, 1958-2008

Year
Candidate
Office
Votes
Percent
Place
1958
Keith Capper
US Senate
599
1.2
3 of 3
1968
Ernest Gruening
US Senate
14,118
17.4
3 of 3
1978
Wally Hickel
Governor
33,555
26.4
2 of 5
1986
Wally Hickel
Governor
4,958
2.8
4 of 6
1986
Ed Hoch
Governor
107
0.1
6 of 6
1998
Robin Taylor
Governor
40,209
18.3
2 of 8
1998
Wayne Ross
Governor
801
0.4
7 of 8
1998
Nick Begich, Jr.
Governor
579
0.3
8 of 8
Sources: Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives; State of Alaska Division of Elections. Table compiled by Smart Politics.


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2 Comments


  • Lisa Murkowski’s no Crist, lest anybody think that-

    He is at least a talented campaigner/politician/snake who’s actually got his name on the ballot- and started his independent candidacy with a big lead, NONE of which are the case with Murkowski

    Now Joe Miller can whip two libs instead of one, as Palin said about Murkowski’s decision yesterday "It’s all good".

    Even Orange Charlie is getting creamed by double digits in the latest poll, so far Rubio had no problem facing two boneheads that support the Obama agenda AT ALL

    Miller won’t either, imo

  • THANK YOU for posting! I love your blog!!

    Steve
    Common Cents
    http://www.commoncts.blogspot.com

  • Leave a comment


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