U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s campaign is starting to get underway. On November 6th she held a rally in downtown Anchorage to announce she had officially filed to run for re-election. The event was well attended and energetic, the room tense with gleeful anticipation of the fight to come. It was everything the campaign could have hoped for from an ambiguously advertised event meant to showcase a covertly planned announcement.
For those of us watching politics in Alaska, the event offered the first opportunity to hear what message Murkowski plans to use as her central narrative for the campaign. Murkowski is a moderate Republican who at various times has had to receive support from disparate factions on the political spectrum to get elected, from staunch conservatives and business leaders to labor unions, native corporations, and straight out Obama loving liberals.
From the speech she gave at her kick-off event, the videos her campaign made out of it, the messaging on her website, recent fundraising emails, and the recent comments she has made as Senator we now have a pretty good idea what her initial line of messaging will be.
An ALASKAN Fighter
It isn’t a coincidence that this is the only video from Lisa Murkowski’s campaign kick-off to be uploaded to her campaign’s YouTube page. It perfectly lays out her first message: I am of Alaska, working for Alaska, fighting for Alaska, on Alaska issues. That message has two equally important components: 1. She is a fighter and 2. ALASKA!!!!!
The “I’m a fighter” rhetoric is nothing new. Murkowski’s contemporary, (And the Congressman for all Alaska) Representative Don Young and mentor the late Senator Ted Stevens made it their political lifeblood to make sure that if every single Alaska voter knew one thing about them it was that they were gonna go down to D.C. and beat the hell out of those lower-48, urban, bureaucratic jerks until they got Alaska’s due, and they weren’t going to be nice about it. I don’t think any single message has ever played better in the Last Frontier. Murkowski is wise to stick to what works.
The Murkowski twist on the “I’m a fighter” message is to uber amp up the Alaska centric overtone. Rather than saying she is going to fight for the things Alaskans believe in, she is making the explicit case that she, more than anyone else in Alaska, will fight on issues that directly impact Alaska and Alaskans. While broader national issues like the federal deficit, national security, and immigration garner Presidential campaign headlines, Murkowski is attacking isues like the embattled road in King Cove, fisheries, and access to federal lands for resource development.
This ultra-Alaskaism is almost certainly designed as a pre-argument against a possible Tea Party challenger in the primary. Did someone say Joe Miller? As Miller illustrated in 2010, Tea Party candidates in Alaska play great on issues with national conservative narratives, but have a tough time fitting those broad conservative philosophies to positions on local issues. By taking this line of messaging Murkowski is hoping to change the battlefield from national issues in a conservative vs liberal framework, where she is weak, to the friendlier turf of local issues in an Alaska vs. Outsiders framework, where she will have the advantage.
Re-finding the Anti-Obama Rage
An interesting thing occurred in the 2010 U.S. Senate race. See if you can find the major difference between the first three Murkowski ads, aired before the primary election, and the second three, aired during Murkowski’s write-in campaign:
Fans of The Sopranos and Game of Thrones would be impressed by how fast Murkowski killed off the major character in her primary campaign narrative, President Barack Obama. And it wasn’t just in her ads, check out these videos of her write-in campaign kick-off and C-SPAN broadcast debate with Joe Miller and Scott McAdams (Remember him?). Murkowski’s Obama allergy medication must have really kicked in, because she seems to barely remember the guy she was fighting so hard against just weeks before.
Write in Kick-off Part 1:
Write in Kick-off Part 2:
Alaska Senate Debate (C-SPAN)
It shouldn’t shock anyone that Murkowski pivoted from “Obama fighter” to “Working with everyone” for the write-in campaign. That campaign was largely supported by Obama backing interests, organized labor, and Alaska Native groups. The Anti-Obama rhetoric no longer fit so Murkowski made a change.
If that bothered you, worry not, because Murkowski is once again positioning herself as the Anti-Obama. This is one of those moments I wish I could see the face of those reading my articles. I’m really curious whose brows are more furled reading that line: Obama lovers who supported the “To hell with the Republican Party, I’m working with everyone” Lisa Murkowski of 2010 or the supporters of Joe-dude, I’m seriously the patient zero of anti-Obama rage-Miller.
To prove the point here is the front page of Murkowski’s campaign website and a video of Murkowski giving the GOP’s weekly radio address on October 31st. Like Bobby Ewing in the shower, Obama has made a stunning return.
Lisa Murkowski Campaign Website
10/31 Weekly GOP Address
Senator Murkowski is explaining the return to her Anti-Obama roots by saying she tried to work with the President but that proved impossible. Events of the past few months help to bolster Murkowski’s argument, from Shell’s pull out of the Chukchi Sea that many Alaskans blame on federal over regulation to President Obama’s visit to Alaska that looked more intended to sell the concept of Alaska as a national park than any sort of economic opportunity for Alaskans. The idea that the Obama administration, in its closing months, is increasingly targeting Alaska for economic ruin has pretty fertile ground.
This message does appear to reflect a very real feeling of frustration by Murkowski at the administration’s actions in Alaska. However, the anti-Obama message itself is clearly an attempt to inoculate Murkowski from a sure line of attack by a Tea Party challenger, that her acquiescence to Obama enabled many of his administration’s overreaches in Alaska.
It doesn’t take an opposition research genius to find independent documentation saying Murkowski has been one of the most Obama friendly Republicans in the Senate. According to Congressional Quarterly from 2009-2015 Murkowski voted with Obama 68.7% of the time, the second highest rate among Republican senators behind only Susan Collins of Maine.
If Murkowski does get a primary challenger, look for this to be the hot line of debate between the campaigns.