Mr. Sean goes to Washington

Meet Murkowski: One ballsy ballot buster

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When Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP primary, it seemed her time in the U.S. Senate was over. The Republicans didn’t want her (and the party leadership were enraged that she might want to run regardless), the Democrats already had a candidate (and even when they learned Lisa had an unexpectedly open dance card, chose to stick with their guy), and if she made a go of it as an independent, voters would be required to write her name on the ballot. And thus she faces a uniquely harsh task for a candidate: not only must she battle the two majors parties to convince Alaskans to go to the polls to support her, but she must teach the general population how to spell “Murkowski.”

They don’t need to do this perfectly. As noted, states apply subjective standards to spelling, and the Alaska elections director has indicated that simply scribbling “Lisa M.” may even be acceptable. That said, not only does the name (or some approximation thereof) have to be written out, but then the voter must fill in the oval next to it. For the blackened bubble is the actual vote, not the name itself — apparently, this is to accommodate voters who enjoy writing names on a ballot just for the hell of it. So if Lisa Murkowski can somehow rally voters disillusioned with both the Democrats and the Republicans to come out on election day and get them to jot down at least “Lisa M.” (and not just “Lisa” as that’s been ruled unacceptable or maybe “Lisa N.” — you know a scary number of people will get the initial wrong) and then remember to fill in the oval and the state doesn’t abruptly decide that “You know what, Lisa M. really isn’t enough, after all!”, she might somehow…

Eh, who’s she kidding?

Incredibly, there was once a successful write-in candidacy for the Senate. The candidate was Strom Thurmond in South Carolina in 1954. It should be noted this was a unique circumstance. By “unique”, I mean “racist.” At that point in his career Strom had already run for President as the Dixiecrat candidate in 1948 and campaigned by making pronouncements like, “There’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” (Incidentally, those sentiments allowed him to claim 39 electoral votes from South Carolina and three other states — I’m sure his daughter was very proud.)

Let me say it here: for better or worse (and when it comes to how our nation views its swimming pools, it’s decidedly for the better), Lisa Murkowski is no Strom Thurmond.

I still think there’s something inspiring about this seemingly doomed endeavor (and yes, she actually is polling quite well, but again these people haven’t been required to put it in writing yet). Against all odds and logic, Senator Murkowski is sticking it out and counting on the ability of her fellow citizens both to spell and follow directions — two things we, as a nation, do not excel at — because being in the Senate is so awesome that a seat must be clung to like life itself. Look at Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman. When the Democrats dumped him in their primary in 2006, did he muse, “You know, after three terms and 18 years, maybe I should respect the will of the voters and do something else”? Of course he didn’t! Nope, he ran as an Independent. He had two big advantages over Murkowski:

1. He got to be listed on the ballot.

2. The Republican was such a non-factor — winding up with less than 10 percent of the vote — that Lieberman became essentially the GOP nominee by default.

Of course, by doing this he alienated Democrats all over the state and later America and then drove them still further away by endorsing John McCain for President in 2008. And here’s what made this fantabulous: while he pissed off the people who got him in office in the first place, it didn’t really win him any fans among Republicans. Granted, they liked him more than they liked most Democrats and were happy enough to put him on TV to blast Barack, but when McCain seriously considered making Lieberman his running mate the GOP base shot that down like a Manhattan mosque. Oscar Wilde once said of George Bernard Shaw: “An excellent man; he has no enemies; and none of his friends like him.” The same could be said of Joe, except he has enemies (indeed, he caucuses with them).

That noted, he remains a U.S. Senator, and one who gets to chair the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs at that. This makes being a political leper much easier to handle. If you can stay in power, things tend to work themselves out. Voters forget, life goes on, your spouse goes to work as a lobbyist for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries; it’s all good, brother.

Power to you, Senator Murkowski. I don’t see this turning out well, but I applaud you for continuing to reach for your rainbow and here’s hoping by election day you legally change your name to something shorter (I think “Lisa X” has a lovely ring to it, though Strom might beg to differ).

Mr. Sean goes to Washington appears each Thursday.

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