WASHINGTON — Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Thursday that Alaskans, not her GOP Senate colleagues, would influence whether she'd mount a write-in campaign following her loss in last month's Republican primary.
Her decision, expected Friday, hasn't been an easy one, Murkowski said Thursday during an interview on her first full day back in the Senate after the tea party-backed Joe Miller narrowly beat her in the Aug. 24 Republican primary. However, she said she's being swayed by Alaskans "from all walks of life."
"Believe you me, the easier path would be to pack it all up and go do something different," she said. "If I had not heard this call from Alaskans, I would not be deliberating as I am."
Murkowski acknowledged that success would have an "extraordinarily high hurdle."
Few statewide write-in campaigns succeed, and no U.S. senator has pulled one off since South Carolina's Strom Thurmond in 1954. If she does it, five other people — including Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams — would be on the ballot. Murkowski would not and voters would have to write in her name.
Plenty of people have weighed in with advice, Murkowski said, including her colleagues in the Senate, where many other Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, now support Miller. However, Senate colleagues don't vote for her, Murkowski said, and she's listening to Alaskans.
If she decides to do it, she'll be fighting her own party. Senate Republicans have grappled in recent days with how much support to give GOP candidates who, with the backing of the Tea Party Express, ousted candidates backed by the Republican establishment. Democrats this week branded those Senate candidates — including Miller and this week's Delaware GOP primary winner, Christine O'Donnell — as "extremist."
In Miller's case, Republicans who once backed Murkowski haven't just signaled they're supporting her potential rival, they've written checks. The National Republican Senatorial Committee pledged as much as $212,000 in direct and indirect help. McConnell sent Miller $5,000 from his own political action committee.
The Tea Party Express, which dumped more than $600,000 into Miller's campaign, pledged on Thursday to return to Alaska for the general election if Murkowski launches a write-in bid.
Murkowski earlier this week called the Tea Party Express "an outside extremist group" that hijacked the primary. However, she also was careful to differentiate the movement as a whole from the deep-pocketed organization that supported Miller's primary bid.
Other senators, including South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, were openly dismissive of her effort, telling reporters it would be a "terrible thing" for her to run a write-in campaign. DeMint, along with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, has become something of a kingmaker for right-wing candidates, last week spent $12,983 in an online appeal to help raise money for Miller.
In a fundraising letter to supporters, DeMint warned that some establishment Republicans are "quietly rooting" for candidates such as O'Donnell to lose "so they can continue to peddle their discredited line that conservatives cannot win."
"They mistakenly believe that a single defeat in Delaware will discredit the work we have done this year to elect principled leaders in Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, Kentucky, Utah, Nevada, Wisconsin, Washington, and Alaska," he wrote. "They are wrong."
However, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of a dwindling number of Republican moderates, said Thursday that the Republican Party wouldn't achieve a majority with the tea party alone. It would also require moderate Republicans like herself, Snowe said, and members "across the range of political philosophy."
Murkowski said she knows it'll be a bruising fight, if she decides to take it on, and history's not in her favor.
"It is extraordinarily difficult," she said. "But I do feel a responsibility to my state. So that's where I am."