Alaska's Red Hot Senate Race

Another day, another poll that gives a different candidate reason to celebrate. Welcome to the wild U.S. Senate race in Alaska. After weeks of an apparent free fall, Republican Joe Miller might not be dead after all.

Public Policy Polling (PPP) just released a poll showing Miller getting 37 percent of the vote, followed by Scott McAdams and Lisa Murkowski both at 30 percent. Interestingly, the poll found that Miller had the highest negative rating and McAdams has the highest favorable rating. The problem for McAdams is not Joe Miller, but Lisa Murkowski. She appears to be getting significant support from people who like McAdams the most, perhaps from those who think she's got the best chance to beat Miller.

Two other polls released last week had completely different conclusions. One had Murkowski with a sizeable lead, the other had Murkowski and McAdams virtually tied with Miller trailing them both.

The volatility reflects how difficult the race is to poll mainly because the best-known candidate is not even on the ballot. Murkowski is seen by some as the safe choice in the middle between two men who were unknown a few months ago. She's run an aggressive write-in candidacy, but she is battling history.

Eight candidates have run write-in candidacies for statewide races in Alaska. All eight have lost. The closest anyone got to victory was former governor Wally Hickel in 1978 when he ran for U.S. Senate. He came in second place but received just 26.4 percent of the vote.

The most votes ever received by an Alaskan write-in candidate were 40,209 by Robin Taylor in 1998. That was good for second place but amounted to only 18 percent of the total vote.

The only person to ever win a contested statewide race for a major office as a write-in was Strom Thurmond in 1954. Like Murkowski, Thurmond was well known having served as governor of South Carolina for four years. He ran for Senate only after the Republican nominee and incumbent died just weeks before the election.

Murkowski has two slogans for her campaign: "Fill it in, write it in" and "Let's make history". The first is her tutorial on how to vote for her. It's no small thing. Not appearing on the ballot puts even a well-known candidate at a huge disadvantage. In 2004, Donna Frye would have won the race for mayor in San Diego as a write-in, but several thousand votes for her were thrown out because people had not filled in the oval next to "write-in" on the ballot.

For Murkowski to make history, she'll need a big turnout from Alaska Natives who have gotten behind her campaign. Alaska Native corporations have pumped well over one million dollars into Murkowski's campaign seeing her as the candidate most likely to continue the supportive policies started by deceased senator Ted Stevens.

At a recent Murkowski rally a supporter is predicting a big Alaska Native turnout for her. He said there was collective guilt over what happened to Stevens in 2008 when he narrowly lost to Mark Begich. Stevens had just been convicted of several felony counts for improperly accepting gifts. Alaska Natives largely stayed home or drifted to Begich. But after the election and before he was killed in a plane crash, Stevens had those convictions thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct.