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Senate Republicans walk a fine line in Alaska

The National Republican Senatorial Committee launched its first ad of the Alaska Senate race today and, in so doing, revealed the fine line they are trying to walk in this chaotic three-way contest.

The ad, which is costing the committee $162,000, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday night, seeks to draw a stark contrast: President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on one hand, GOP nominee Joe Miller on the other.

"They're out of control," says the ad's narrator as images of Pelosi and Obama are shown on screen. The ad goes on to bash "government takeovers, Wall Street bailouts and Obamacare" before noting ominously: "They want to tell us how to live."

The ad pivots -- and goes into color(!) -- to cast Miller as someone who is "on our side" and committed to standing up to the likes of Obama and Pelosi.

There's a lot going on in the ad -- even though it's only 30 seconds long.

The goal of the commercial broadly is to set the stakes for Alaska voters -- the vast majority of whom are Republicans or, at the least, conservative.

With Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) running as a write-in candidate, national Republicans know the only -- and we repeat, only -- way they lose this race is if GOP voters split their ballots between Murkowski and Miller.

The NRSC ad attempts to make clear that there is only one choice for Republicans in the election: Miller.

And yet, there is no slam on Murkowski in the ad. Why not?

First, national Republicans don't want to hand her a cudgel to paint Miller as the choice of Washington insiders. That's been a powerful message in a number of races already this year and could work particularly well in Alaska where suspicion of institutions always runs high. If the NRSC did go after Murkowski, it's easy to imagine her running a response ad along the lines of "Outside special interests are trying to elect Joe Miller." And, that could be a powerful message.

Second, if polling is to be believed, Murkowski has a realistic shot at winning. If she does win, Senate Republicans don't want an angry incumbent who might not caucus with them when the 112th Congress convenes. It's unlikely but not impossible to imagine a scenario where Murkowski wins and Republicans regain control of the Senate by a seat. If she doesn't caucus with them, the majority goes bye bye.

(A CNN poll released this afternoon showed Murkowski and Miller with 37 percent each while McAdams trails far behind with 23 percent.)

The NRSC ad seems to be the right approach -- prop up the flailing Miller while making no mention of either Murkowski or Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams.

But, three-way races are unpredictable things -- hello Gov. Jesse Ventura! -- and the slightest strategic miscalculation could well change the ultimate outcome in the Last Frontier.

By Chris Cillizza  | October 20, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: Afternoon Fix: Huckabee bashes Conway in new ad and robocall; Democrats' House and Senate committees spread around $20 million; dead heat in Murray-Rossi race

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