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Is Lisa Murkowski going to make history?

1. There is a growing sense among the Republican professional political class that Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is on the verge of winning a three-way race next week, a victory that would make her the first write-in candidate to be elected to the Senate since Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) in 1954.

"Murkowski has run a smart campaign and dedicated a lot of resources to educating voters about how to vote for her," said one senior GOP strategist. "Next to a hapless [Democratic nominee Scott] McAdams and disastrous [Republican nominee] Joe Miller, she has a decent shot to make history.

Murkowski has surged in recent weeks thanks to a series of stumbles by Miller, the man who ousted her in an Aug. 24 primary. Miller's struggles culminated Wednesday when a report surfaced that showed he had not only misused computers at a previous job for political purposes but had repeatedly lied about it.

Miller's camp is hoping to receive a boost today when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, headline an Anchorage rally on his behalf.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee began advertising in the state last week with an ad that painted Miller as the one true choice for Republicans -- casting the race as a choice between President Barack Obama and Miller. The ad never mentioned Murkowski.

This week, the NRSC has turned its attention to McAdams -- casting him as a tax and spend Democrat in a new ad; "Higher taxes? Bigger government? Alaska can't afford Scott McAdams," says the ad's narrator.

(All told, the NRSC has spent $565,000 in independent expenditures in the state; the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is not spending on television ads.)

The switch from a positive ad for Miller to a negative on on McAdams suggesting that even the NRSC is hedging its bets somewhat. The NRSC's strategic goal now appears to be limit McAdams' growth and let Murkowski rise -- under the belief that she would caucus with the party if she wins. (She has said she would do so.)

Heather Handyside, a spokeswoman for McAdams, insisted Miller's slippage works in her candidate's favor. "Miller's dropping numbers will likely result in more votes for McAdams since a large number of independents, and even some Democrats, are voting for Murkowski out of fear for Miller -- not because they support Murkowski," said Handyside.

While the success of Murkowski's write-in effort has astounded even seasoned political pros, it's also frustrated them.

"If Lisa had run a real primary election campaign defining Miller as a fatally flawed candidate and won it, she would not be running many ads now, not trying to do something which has not been successfully done since 1954 and would still be a part of the Senate Republican leadership," said one GOP strategist.

One x-factor that could impede Murkowski's historic candidacy: translating the energy for her on the ground into actual write-in votes. That effort suffered a temporary setback Wednesday when an Alaska Superior Court judge ruled that election officials could not hand out a list of write-in candidates at polling places. The Alaska Supreme Court overturned that ruling late Wednesday, however, provided a boost for Murkowski.

It's become increasingly clear that Murkowski, not Miller, is the momentum candidate in the race. Can she make history in five days time?

2. Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) is up with a new TV ad featuring footage of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama praising the candidate at a campaign event.

"Alexi's my friend," President Obama says in the ad. "I know his character. You can trust him. You can count on him." At the ad's close, Michelle Obama says that Giannoulias "is in this for the right reasons. He will be a phenomenal U.S. senator."

Giannoulias is locked in a tight race against Rep. Mark Kirk (R) for the president's former Senate seat. The ad comes days ahead of President Obama's scheduled visit to Chicago on Saturday to rally the Democratic ticket.

The two Senate hopefuls faced off Wednesday night in their final debate of the race.

As at their previous slugfests, the two hit each other on the issues of trust and character -- Kirk slamming Giannoulias for his family bank's lending of money to criminal figures, and Giannoulias hitting Kirk for misstatements of his military record.

Kirk again apologized for the embellishments of his record, which he called "careless," before then going on to compare his service to Giannoulias' who, he said, "hasn't served a day in his life."

At one point, as Kirk was hammering him on the bank issue, Giannoulias took aim at his opponent for receiving campaign contributions from donors who later were charged with corruption, saying that Kirk, too, took money from "criminals." Giannoulias also slammed Kirk on another familiar theme: outside groups' spending on the campaign.

Kirk touted his moderate record, while Giannoulias pointed to the fact that his campaign has begun running only positive ads. Still, if the rancor at the debate was any indication, the two remain locked in a contest that looks to be among the closest in the country

3. Republican Sharron Angle has taken a slight lead in the Nevada Senate race, according to a new poll from CNN and Time.

The poll shows Angle taking 49 percent of the vote, compared to 45 percent for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) and 2 percent for Tea Party candidate Scott Ashjian. It is the first time Angle has led by that much in a poll not conducted by automated pollster Rasmussen Reports.

The margin of error in the poll is plus or minus 3.5 percent, which means the lead isn't statistically significant. But it's still a good sign for Republicans worried about Angle's prospects.

In other closely watched Senate contests, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) has reasserted a slight lead over Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in the Pennsylvania Senate race, while Sen. Michael Bennet (D) is in a very tight race with Weld County Prosecutor Ken Buck (R).

The CNN/Time poll showed Toomey at 49 percent and Sestak at 45 percent. Sestak has closed the gap in recent polling, but Toomey is still showing a lead in polls from CNN/Time, Franklin and Marshall College and Muhlenberg College. A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed the two men tied.

In Colorado, Buck was at 47 percent and Bennet was at 46 percent in the CNN survey, a result very similar to other recent polling.

In California, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) leads Republican Carly Fiorina 50 percent to 45 percent, while in Kentucky Republican Rand Paul has opened a 50 percent-to-43 percent lead on Democrat Jack Conway.

4. House Democrats spent more than $20 million in 67 districts this week in what amounts to a last-ditch effort to hold the majority, according to filings made with the Federal Election Commission.

The most notable buys were in Rep. Gerry Connolly's (D-Va.) Washington, D.C., area district, where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pumped nearly $1.1 million into a race that was previously not considered a top target.

The committee also sent more than $820,000 to the Boston media market to save the open seat of retiring Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and nearly $2 million combined into the Philadelphia media market to aid Rep. John Adler (D-N.J.), Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) and the open 7th district seat in Pennsylvania.

The DCCC spent its first money in Murphy's district, where former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) has a surprising chance to take back the seat Murphy won from him four years ago. The committee also made its first buys in four other districts, held by Reps. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Ron Klein (D-Fla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

The DCCC has ceased (or never started) spending money in 15 districts held by members of their party -- a sign that those seats are likely lost. It also placed only very small buys this week (about $11,000 each) in districts held by Reps. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) and Jim Marshall (D-Ga.).

The committee has now spent close to $60 million on independent expenditures. The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has spent about $42 million to date, is expected to disburse another $12 million by the end of the week.

5. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) released his closing ad in the race to succeed the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D), a 30-second spot in which Manchin reiterates his independence from his party and from politics-as-usual.

"I'm as mad as you are with what's going on in Washington," Manchin says in the ad, which features the candidate standing in front of a sun-drenched, hilly landscape. "Both the Democrats and Republicans are dead wrong. They put their party first, their personal agenda second and our country last -- and they want you to believe I'm going to be a rubberstamp for that? Not a chance."

Manchin goes on to ask voters to "give me the chance to shake up Washington, just like I did here as governor."

The ad is a stark contrast to an attack ad released by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee earlier Wednesday, as well as one launched by Manchin's campaign this week charging that businessman John Raese's (R) ideas are "crazy." Raese's latest spot, meanwhile, continues to tie Manchin to President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Manchin's efforts to distance himself from national Democrats caught the attention of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who suggested while campaigning for Raese that Manchin should "become a Republican" since he's "running away from President Obama as fast as he can."

With five days remaining until Election Day, recent polling shows Manchin with a slight lead.

With Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez

By Aaron Blake  | October 28, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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