In the first of several debates before the Nov. 2 general elections, incumbent Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski vowed that she will remain a Republican if she wins her write-in campaign to retain her seat.

“I am Republican. I have been a Republican since I was 18. I will always be a Republican,” Politico reported her as saying during the debate, which was sponsored by the Alaska Native Professional Association.

Murkowski’s pledge is a double-edged sword for Republicans, who have thrown their support behind the man who defeated her in the August Republican primary, Tea Party-backed candidate Joe Miller (see Daily GPI, Aug. 27). On the one hand, her independent write-in race detracts support from the Republican-backed Miller, who also is supported by former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

But if Murkowski should win, the Republicans want her on their side. Murkowski has signaled that she will continue to caucus with the Republicans in the lame-duck session and, if she wins reelection, throughout the next Congress, Politico said.

While write-in candidates typically don’t have a good chance of winning, Murkowski has several things going for her — name recognition in Alaska (her father, Frank Murkowski, was senator and governor of the state) and a hefty war chest. And it’s believed that more of her supporters — who didn’t show up on Aug. 24 because they felt she already had the election sewed up — will be there in November.

Two polls last week showed that Murkowski is very much in the race against Miller, an attorney and former judge, and Democratic candidate Scott McAdams. One survey conducted by CNN showed Miller at 38% compared to 36% for Murkowski, and 22% for McAdams. A second poll, carried out by Alaska-based Cracium Research — which has ties to Democratic candidates — revealed an even more optimistic outlook, with Murkowski leading Miller 41% to 30%, and McAdams at 19%.

Murkowski’s relationship with Republicans is currently mixed at best. After she announced her write-in campaign, Murkowski was forced to resign her post as vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Caucus. However, Senate Republicans in late September did not remove Murkowski as the ranking Republican of the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (see Daily GPI, Sept. 23).

The Senate Republicans voted to keep things as they were on the committee with only a few days remaining in the congressional session. “We just wanted to keep the status quo. We all decided that it’s a better thing to do,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said.

But Murkowski spokesman Michael Brumas saw the vote by the Republican Conference as a “show of support” for the senator. Murkowski was not on Capitol Hill during the vote. She is expected to remain in Alaska until the November elections.

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