Endorsements Fly in GOP Senate Race

The Primary Election is tomorrow, and the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate are scrambling for high-profile endorsements. Mead Treadwell announced today he has astronaut Buzz Aldrin, in addition to Iditarod legend Martin Buser. Joe Miller boasts Fox TV host Mike Huckabee, so-called “World’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio, and – just today — Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson. Dan Sullivan landed board members of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Club for Growth and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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Last week, after Miller announced he had Sarah Palin’s endorsement, Treadwell countered that he already landed her father-in-law, Jim Palin. Meanwhile, in the House race, Democrat Forrest Dunbar says he has the endorsement of Santa Claus. That is, a guy in North Pole who legally changed his name from Tom O’Connor to Santa Claus.

Anchorage Pollster Marc Hellenthal says there’s a reason for all this activity. He says endorsements have an impact on voters, but he warns it’s not always positive.

“The cost is that the endorsement ad – say, by Palin — goes to somebody who doesn’t like Palin,” Hellenthal says, “and they were voting for you before they got the Palin endorsement, and they say, ‘the heck with it, I’m not voting for that person anymore.’”

In a two-way race, the cost of controversial endorsements is higher, he says, because an offended voter runs from your camp to your direct opponent. In a three-way race like this one, the offended voter will still drop you, but may vote for a candidate running too far behind to matter. Hellenthal says the sure-fire way to win at the endorsement game, is to get the blessing of a beloved Alaskan leader, someone who rates very highly with most voters.

“That would be Lisa Murkowski,” he says, “and to my knowledge, she has not endorsed anybody.”

In this Republican Senate race, though, a Murkowski endorsement may not be the golden ticket. Joe Miller is accusing anyone associating with her of being insufficiently conservative.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Liz here.

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