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Lisa Murkowski surges in Alaska (or does she?)

1. Two new polls released last Wednesday suggested that Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is very much a contender in her write-in bid against Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams.

One survey, conducted for CNN, shows Miller at 38 percent to 36 percent for Murkowski among likely voters. McAdams lags in third with 22 percent.

A second poll -- this one done by Alaska-based Craciun Research, which has ties to Democratic candidates -- is even rosier for Murkowski, showing her leading Miller 41 percent to 30 percent with McAdams at just 19 percent.

Those numbers are sure to raise eyebrows -- does that ever actually happen? -- as they seem to suggest that Murkowski has a real chance to be the first person since Strom Thurmond in 1954 to be elected to the Senate as a write-in.

But, in conversations with a handful of longtime Alaska political observers, they cast doubt on the new polling numbers due to the difficulty of accurately measuring Murkowski's write-in candidacy.

The CNN poll, for example, asked: "If the election were held today and the candidates were Scott McAdams, the Democrat, and Joe Miller, the Republican, who would you be more likely to vote for or would you write in the name of Lisa Murkowski who is also running?"

The problem with that question is that it reminds anyone taking the survey that Murkowski is running and treats her as an equal to Miller and McAdams on the ballot. It also likely benefits Murkowski because her name identification is much higher than either Miller or McAdams.

"These polls are clearly flawed," said Alaska Democratic Party Chair Patti Higgins. "The electoral situation is very dynamic right now."

Anyone who wants to vote for Murkowski won't simply see her name on the ballot and check it off but will need to write it in -- a much more involved process that takes a tremendous voter education effort. (One of Murkowski's new ads is entirely dedicated to getting people to spell her name.)

"You cannot entirely compensate for a write-in candidate and that's why the margin is significant in this case," Craciun said via email. "We know the intent of voters at this point -- and more than 40% of Alaskans polled are with Lisa. Now it will be Lisa's job to teach Alaskans how to show their intent on Election Day."

That's a major hurdle, however. It doesn't mean Murkowski can't make it happen in the next 34 days but it does mean the polling data released over the last 24 hours should be taken cum grano salis.

Polling then could well be an inaccurate barometer of Murkowski's chances on Nov. 2.

2. A new ad from Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Robin Carnahan's campaign goes after GOP Rep. Roy Blunt's record on earmarks.

The ad is in the same vein as several other Carnahan ads in which the Missouri Secretary of State hits the former House GOP whip for being a Washington insider.

The latest, titled "Potatoes," lists a few of the more comical and superfluous-sounding earmarks that have made their way through Congress - a teapot museum in North Carolina, a swimming pool in California and a potato research center in Idaho - and attributes them to an earmarking process made possible by Blunt.

"He's been called a 'prodigious pork-meister' for earmarks that cost you $20 billion a year," the ad states. "That's a lot of potatoes."

Blunt's time as a Republican leader may be his biggest vulnerability in the race even as he remains a slight favorite in the open seat race to replace retiring Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.).

Most recent polling gives Blunt a single-digit lead.

3. The Democratic National Committee moved $5 million to key national and state committees September while Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) are each donating $1 million to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to sources.

The DNC sent nearly $1.7 million to both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, along with $400,000 to the Georgia Democratic Party, $325,000 to Florida Democrats, $250,000 each to Minnesota and New Mexico, $125,000 each to Connecticut and Maryland and $100,000 to Rhode Island.

The committee has now sent a total of $4.8 million to both its Senate and House committees. All seven states receiving DNC money are holding key gubernatorial races this year.

McCain and Coburn both announced their $1 million donations to the NRSC at Wednesday's weekly GOP conference lunch. Both are up for re-election this year but appear to be cruising to victory.

McCain spent roughly $21 million on his primary campaign against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R) and wound up winning easily. His general election matchup with former Tucson Vice Mayor Rodney Glassman (D) is not seen as competitive.

Coburn had $1.8 million in his campaign account as of July 7. He faces retired professor Jim Rogers.

The donations are the most money the NRSC has gotten from individuals members this year. The committee had $25.6 million on hand at the end of August.

On the Democratic side, former DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has given $2 million of his vast campaign account -- better than $23 million at the end of August -- to the committee he headed during the 2006 and 2008 cycles. He, like McCain and Coburn, faces re-election this year but is expected to cruise.

4. The Republican National Committee is going up with its latest TV ad of the cycle, a 30-second spot that's airing in support of physician Dan
Benishek
's (R) campaign in Michigan's 1st district open-seat race.

In the straight-to-camera spot, Benishek pushes back against what he claims are Democrats' "scare tactics" saying, "The truth is, I'm fighting to protect Social Security. I'd never do anything to jeopardize anyone's retirement."

"What should scare us is Obama's and Pelosi's devastating cuts to Medicare," Benishek continues. "We should be scared of Obamacare wrecking our health care system."

The ad, which will cost the RNC $85,000, comes as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has gone up with its own ad in the race charging that Benishek's tax plan "would eliminate taxes for corporations, while you pay 23 percent more for almost
everything."

National Republicans as well as Benishek's opponent, state Rep. Gary McDowell (D), have released competing polls over the past week. McDowell's poll shows the race in a statistical tie, with Benishek taking 41 percent to McDowell's 38 percent among likely voters. The NRCC's survey shows McDowell ahead 40 percent to 24 percent among likely voters, with 36 percent undecided.

5. President Obama will campaign for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) next week as a new Washington Post poll shows O'Malley with a wide lead former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R).

Obama will stump for O'Malley on Oct. 7, the same day that he is expected to be in Illinois to host a second fundraiser for Democratic Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias and three days before he headlines a rally in Philadelphia.

Obama has also recorded a robocall for O'Malley praising him for making "tough decisions to put education, safety and job creation first."

The Post poll, released Wednesday, shows O'Malley leading Ehrlich 52 percent to 41 percent among likely voters. Ehrlich dismissed the poll findings as "light years from what both sides I think know to be reality." But, he did not release his own poll numbers to prove that the race is closer than the Post poll suggests.

Meanwhile, Ehrlich announced Wednesday that he has been endorsed by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), who also backed him in his 2006 bid against O'Malley. The Giuliani endorsement came one day after another national Republican, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), endorsed Ehrlich.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Chris Cillizza  | September 30, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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