This morning Alaska Dispatch News published a story that Margaret Stock has publicly acknowledged she will run for Alaska’s U.S. Senate seat this year against incumbent Lisa Murkowski. This isn’t really new news, as an avid reader of The Midnight Sun you’ll recall we reported it first on December 4th of last year.
This morning I was prompted by a loyal reader with the obvious question “What’s your take on the challenger entering the U.S. Senate race?”
In the December blurb I wrote Ms. Stock would be running for Senate and that speculation was she would do it as a Democrat. She objected pretty hard on Facebook to that speculation. So assuming that the ADN article is accurate in saying she is running as an Independent and her outrage at the implication she would run as a Democrat or Democrat surrogate was genuine, this is how I see things.
The short version is I don’t think Stock isn’t a game-changing candidate. She will likely garner 5% in the general election, with 15% being the upper limit of her appeal.
The longer version is this, Stock’s background is impressive. She is a Harvard graduate, MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant recipient, and retired Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army. As a candidate, however, Stock is no Mark Begich, and she’s no Joe Miller. In the context of a U.S. Senate race in Alaska, that is a bad thing. Miller had a message of intellectually consistent devout conservatism that perfectly matched the anti-Murkowski angst in the ranks of Alaska conservatives. And Mark Begich carried the Democratic Party mantle well in Alaska, and almost beat Sen. Sullivan for reelection.
Stock on the other hand is best, actually solely, known for her position on immigration and refugees. She articulated this position in a discussion with Alaska Republican Party Chairman Peter Goldberg on APRN in November, you can listen to here. Goldberg’s position is totally in line with where most Republicans were, and probably still are. It could best be summarized as “No Syrian refugees.” Stock’s position is far more nuanced and informed, but none-the-less far more accepting of Muslim refugees coming into America.
That is a problem.
Polling shows moderates in Alaska see Murkowski as one of their own and support her overwhelmingly. Liberals may not love Murkowski, but they see her an acceptable choice compared to a Miller-esque candidate Alaska could easily elect. The only real juice in a run against Lisa Murkowski is in the ranks of the right-wingers who feel she isn’t consistently conservative enough. Among that crowd a perceived “pro-Muslim” position, no matter how nuanced or informed, is a deal breaker.
Another problem for Stock is she lacks both the money and charisma to be a top-tier contender. Say what you will about Joe Miller, but he has an impressive ability to connect to a large swath of the Republican base. Stock is incredibly intelligent and quite articulate, but in her media appearances to date she’s demonstrated a dearth of passion, enthusiasm, and appeal. She sounds more like an attorney making a cold, logical critique in court, rather than a passionate advocate of the people’s will.
In order to make an Independent run work, a candidate simply has to offer some populist charisma to bring people to them. Joe Miller has that and Sarah Palin is made of it. Margaret Stock isn’t quite there.
An open question will be where Stock gets her campaign money. She no doubt thinks her national professional connections, Harvard classmates, and legal colleagues provide a rich fundraising opportunity. Think about this though, if Mead Treadwell, whose national and international business connections are unparalleled among candidates, and Joe Miller, who had national name recognition, couldn’t raise more than $1.45 million combined in 2014, then what are the chances Ms. Stock is going to be able to raise enough money to combat Lisa Murkowski’s already formidable $3.28 Million?
In the final analysis Ms. Stock lacks a natural base, name recognition, fundraising bona-fides, and has a message incongruent with the best opportunity to appeal to voters longing to replace Lisa Murkowski.
Ms. Stock is entirely new to Alaska’s political battleground so I have to acknowledge everything said here could end up being proven completely wrong. She could be a prolific fundraiser with unparalleled populist appeal and a message that speaks to Alaskans like no one else’s. Her track record thus far, however, warrants no such conclusion.
Right now the reasonable conclusion is Ms. Stock is a 5-10% candidate in the general election.
The next few weeks will be telling. People have known Stock was likely to run for weeks thanks to our reporting and Murkowski’s campaign folks have been adamant they are ready, willing, and able to unload a million dollar barrage on anyone they see as a threat. They undoubtedly have done their homework on Stock. If you see no notable attacks on Stock in the next couple of weeks it will be a clear sign they don’t see her as a real threat either.
The Better Question
The more relevant question isn’t whether Stock will win, she won’t. It is how could this shake up the U.S. Senate race overall, because it could.
If you figure Ms. Stock carves off 5-10% for herself in the general election and whatever random sacrificial name the Alaska Democratic Party places on the ballot gets the same 23% Scott McAdams garnered in 2010 then doesn’t that make things interesting if you are Joe Miller, Sean Parnell, or someone similar? Instead of fighting Lisa Murkowski for 51% of Republican primary voters they could run as an independent or libertarian who pledges to join the Republican Caucus in the U.S. Senate and only fight Murkowski for general election votes. In this equation, the first one to 35% wins.
There has to be a big name conservative in Alaska who looks at that math as highly attractive.
If they do, and one of them jumps into the race, is there any chance Mark Begich, who says he won’t run this year, won’t change his mind and get into the race?
Oh, the dominos, they could be falling.