ANCHORAGE — One-hundred and twenty-three people voted in the eroding, Southwest Alaska village of Newtok on Tuesday. Not one chose Republican senate nominee Joe Miller.
One ballot went to Democrat Scott McAdams. Two people chose the Libertarian candidate.
The rest? All write-ins -- which this year likely means Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
"I was kind of scared (that) Miller might win," said Newtok tribal administrator Stanley Tom, whose job is similar to being a mayor in other towns. "We made a public announcement over the VHF radio to vote for Lisa Murkowski," he said.
If the hand count of write-in ballots shows Murkowski has indeed won the U.S. Senate race, villages like Newtok may have made the difference.
The math is striking. Five rural voting districts -- all regions that voted for Tony Knowles over Murkowski in the Senate race just six years ago -- gave the Republican incumbent as much as 60 percent of her apparent 13,400-vote lead over Miller.
Fueled by unrestricted contributions from Alaska Native corporations and endorsed by the Alaska Federation of Natives, Murkowski's write-in campaign clobbered Miller and McAdams up and down the remote Alaska coast. The lopsided victories stretched from the North Slope village of Wainwright, where Murkowski stands to win as much as 74 percent of the vote in the three-way race, down to Sand Point off the Alaska Peninsula, where seven of 10 people voted "write-in."
"The rural vote was absolutely critical to what we hope will be our success," Murkowski spokesman Steve Wackowski said Friday as his boss flew back to Washington, D.C.
While statewide politicians often need rural Alaska to help win elections, the towns and villages bank on their congressional delegation for basic survival. It was an act of Congress that created the Alaska Native regional corporations, and it's Congress that streams money for health care and social services to cash-poor hunting and fishing communities.
This year, the relationship between Native corporations and candidates changed when a Supreme Court ruling freed firms to pour unlimited money into political activity.
As a result, a "Super PAC" comprised of Alaska Native corporations reported spending more than $1.26 million to get Murkowski re-elected. The effort included mailing scores of boxes of campaign material to villages across the state, and hiring workers to go door-to-door to hand out brochures and teach people how to vote a write-in ballot for Murkowski.
Could Murkowski have won without the help?
"Good question," said Wackowski, her spokesman. "Let me put it like this. The proof is in the pudding."
There's no question the political action committee, called Alaskans Standing Together, played "a big role" in the election outcome, said Will Anderson, AST chair.
"Whether it was what made a complete difference, I think that's a matter for debate," he said.
Murkowski's support from the corporations and from the AFN -- which share some of the same leadership -- was a regular target for Miller, who said the incumbent had been "bought and paid for" by the corporations.