In Alaska, it's not over even when it's over.
With Sen. Lisa Murkowski trailing little-known challenger Joe Miller by 1,668 votes in the GOP primary and about 14,000 absentee and early votes still to be counted this week, the candidate for the state's Libertarian Party told The Washington Times that he would consider stepping aside in her favor - for a price.
Although Libertarian Party officials were dismissing the idea, Senate nominee David Haase said Monday that he would give Mrs. Murkowski his line on the ballot if the Republican senator would hoist his banner on behalf of nationalizing the Federal Reserve System, paying off the entire national debt with non-interest-bearing notes and abolishing the individual income tax.
"Would I step down for her? The right question is, first, will she take up my 'People's Bailout'?" Mr. Haase said, referring to a policy paper he has been circulating on how "to return to the banking system our Founders gave us."
"If she came out for my 'Peoples Bailout' plan, it would influence me a lot because the mission is more important than becoming a U.S. senator," he added.
The situation is equally fluid on the Democratic side, as party leaders consider whether to stick with primary winner and Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams or go with a better-known alternative - including former Gov. Tony Knowles - in the suddenly competitive race. The temptation would only grow if Mrs. Murkowski and Mr. Miller both ran and split the center-right vote.
Although he trails in the polls, Mr. McAdams has shown no signs of quitting the race, and other Democrats are dismissing the speculation.
"Scott is our candidate. Period," Alaska Democratic Party Executive Director Deborah L. Williams said in an e-mail.
But the uncertainty and confusion on the Republican side have attracted the most attention in the race after the stunning Aug. 24 primary. Mr. Miller, a Fairbanks lawyer and former judge who was given little chance against the better-funded incumbent, rode endorsements from former Gov. Sarah Palin, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and "tea party" activists in Alaska to seize a narrow lead when the first votes were tallied.
Mrs. Murkowski, whose family has long feuded with Mrs. Palin, angered conservatives by, among other things, voting for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout in 2008 known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Also, Alaska tea party activist David Eastman sent e-mail reminders that the American Family Association ranked Mrs. Murkowski "the third most anti-family Republican in the Senate."
Despite Mr. Haase's willingness to consider stepping aside, it is doubtful that other Libertarian Party members would accept Mrs. Murkowski as their standard-bearer.
The party's executive committee said Monday on a 5-0 vote that it was strongly opposed to the idea.
"We have decided that we will not offer the nomination to Lisa Murkowski for the Senate seat, even if came to that, because of fundamental differences," said Libertarian Party Chairman Scott Kohlhaas.
Others say there could be an upside for the small party down the road.
Ralph Seekins, a conservative and Republican National Committee member from Alaska, told The Washington Times on Monday that having a well-known politician such as Mrs. Murkowski with such a well-stocked campaign kitty - nearly $2 million in early August - would bring the resource-strapped party visibility, cash and more than enough votes to guarantee it a place on the ballot in the next election.
But former Alaska GOP Chairman Wayne Anthony Ross said of the prospect that Mrs. Murkowski would link up with the Libertarian Party: "I doubt it. In my humble opinion, it would be the kiss of death for her."
Although the GOP establishment clearly backed Mrs. Murkowski, National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) spokesman Brian Walsh said the national party would support Mr. Miller if he is declared the primary winner, regardless of whether Mrs. Murkowski runs as a Libertarian or as a write-in candidate.
A write-in candidacy is a last option for Mrs. Murkowski, though professionals in the Democratic and Republican parties say that would be unlikely, even in an election cycle so full of surprises.
Some on the right are concerned that the Alaska GOP or the NRSC would somehow intervene in the absentee ballot count to help Mrs. Murkowski, said Katherine Hicks, an Alaska tea party activist.
Mr. Walsh said the NRSC had sent only one lawyer to spend three days advising Mrs. Murkowski on the absentee ballot count.
Mr. Seekins and Alaska Eagle Forum President Debbie Joslin, who is also an RNC member, told The Times that the fears of Mr. Miller's supporters were unfounded. State GOP Chairman Randy Ruedrich, who has long been at odds with Mrs. Palin and is suspected of supporting Mrs. Murkowski behind the scenes, did not return e-mail or phone queries.
"The Alaska Division of Elections does an excellent job with absentee and early balloting," Mrs. Joslin said. "I have always been very proud of the clean system we have in Alaska. I believe Lisa will honor her pre-primary pledge to support the Republican nominee."
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