With Sen. Lisa Murkowski conceding the Alaska GOP primary Tuesday night to lawyer Joe Miller, some Democrats now believe they have a chance to pick up a seat in a state no one thought could be in play in a cycle where Democrats are facing a significant loss of seats.
Democrats spent the previous week ramping up an organization and excitement for the campaign of Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, the Democratic nominee who would have been the party’s sacrificial offering against Murkowski this fall.
“It’s night and day,” a Democratic source close to the campaign said about the feeling on the ground in the state since the primary. “People are excited. People are stunned.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Begich has already helped usher staff to the underfunded McAdams campaign, including people from his Washington office and veterans of his Senate and mayoral campaigns.
It is still an uphill climb for McAdams, who begins with a notable financial disadvantage. Through the end of June, he had raised less than $10,000 and has yet to file a required pre-primary fundraising report with the Federal Election Commission that was due in mid-August.
Both McAdams and Miller have a lot of work to do to raise the necessary money to define a race that few saw coming. As of Aug. 4, Miller had $84,000 in cash on hand and debts of $108,000.
McAdams faces the additional challenge of limited national party money. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee enjoyed a significant cash advantage over the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the 2008 cycle, but now the two are about even. Through July, both had a little more than $20 million.
Democrats must decide how to divide that among as many as 12 competitive seats the party is working to hold, as well as seven Republican-held seats they want to win. Although Alaska is a relatively inexpensive state in terms of TV advertising, vulnerable incumbents in Democratic-leaning states could become discouraged if they see the DSCC spending its resources on an underfunded candidate in a conservative state.
To help get the fundraising ball rolling for the general election, a McAdams fundraiser will be held Thursday at the Anchorage home of state Sen. Hollis French, who finished second in last week’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.
The $250-per-person affair was thrown together so quickly, a source said, that there are no invitations and attendees had just three days’ notice.
“It is happening, and there’s a new surge of energy and excitement into Democratic headquarters out here,” Alaska Democratic Party spokeswoman Kay Brown said. “Scott’s a good guy, a real Alaskan, and I think he’s going to look good and compare favorably against Joe Miller.”
Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said he understands why Democrats see a brighter opportunity now, but a race on the issues still gives Miller the advantage.
“We’ll certainly run the race to win it and raise the issue that so far McAdams pretty much aligns with the Democratic Party line,” DeSoto said. “That was our issue with Murkowski … that she voted too often for big-government items. But we feel that [McAdams] will have a tough election trying to run on a party line that’s been pretty well discredited on the economy and spending.”
The Democratic source said that McAdams could pick up Republican votes in places like the Aleutian Islands, which is home to the largest fishing port in the country and relies on significant federal funding — something some in the state believe could diminish with Miller in office.
“People are freaked out out here about this Joe Miller guy,” the source said.