ANCHORAGE — The abortion issue may have cost embattled U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski an untold number of votes Tuesday to Republican primary challenger Joe Miller, say anti-abortion activists.
The ballot also included a sharply contested voter initiative generally requiring parents to be notified before their teen receives an abortion. Miller came out strongly for Ballot Measure 2.
"He told voters over and over again: Flip your ballot over, vote 'yes on 2.' Before you vote for me, vote 'yes on 2.' Ballot Measure 2 is much more important than this Senate race," said Bernadette Wilson, campaign manager for Alaskans for Parental Rights, the "yes on 2" group.
Murkowski never did the same, Wilson said. All the other statewide Republican candidates gave money to the effort. Murkowski didn't, Wilson said. Supporters of the parental notification requirement noticed, she said.
Murkowski's campaign said the senator supported Measure 2 and went to two fundraisers for it. But her campaign lawyer advised that she couldn't let Alaskans for Parental Rights use her name in its materials, because that would amount to an illegal campaign contribution to her, under federal election law, according to an e-mailed copy of the analysis.
The initiative, which marked the first time Alaskans confronted an abortion issue at the polls, passed with 55 percent of the vote.
In addition, the political arm of the anti-abortion, pro-traditional-marriage organization Alaska Family Council asked candidates detailed questions on abortion and other social issues. Murkowski's answers showed her to be pro-choice, while Miller was the opposite, said council president Jim Minnery.
The political group sent the answers to thousands of its supporters, as well as pastors and the media, said Minnery, who also chaired the "yes on 2" campaign.
"Many, many people thought Lisa Murkowski was pro-life And she's not. It's plain as day," Minnery said.
Murkowski's record on abortion is complex. She has long said abortion decisions are between a woman and her doctor, and in her first appointed Senate term, she voted for a nonbinding "sense of the Senate" that supported Roe v. Wade. But she's voted against federal funding for abortion, and supported a ban on late-term abortions.
Miller also got the endorsement of the Alaska Right to Life political action committee, just as Murkowski's Republican primary opponent did in 2004.
Alaskans for Parental Rights never told its backers to vote for Miller, and didn't work on his campaign, Wilson said. But it didn't have to.
Weeks ago, when her group first waved their "yes on 2" signs along the Seward Highway in Midtown, Miller drove past, then made a U-turn to join them, Wilson said. On Election Day, Miller waved one of their signs along with one of his own.
"People who voted 'yes' on Ballot Measure 2 and people who voted for Joe Miller are of like mind," Wilson said. "People kind of linked arms and came to the polls for both."
"There's no doubt that Lisa Murkowski's pro-abortion views had an influence on this election," Minnery said.