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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Murkowski vs. Tea Party, Round 2

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the Tea Party Express are at it again.

Murkowski, who is running for reelection as a write-in candidate after losing the GOP nomination to a tea party-backed candidate, has asked Alaska TV stations not to air a Tea Party Express ad that she calls "false, misleading and deceptive." We largely agree with that description.

The ad falsely accuses Murkowski of trying to "influence the absentee vote count" after narrowly losing the primary. It also stretches the truth when it claims Murkowski tried to "manipulate" the Libertarian Party into giving her the party’s spot on the Nov. 2 ballot — a claim the party chairman denied. And while it is true that Lisa Murkowski was appointed in 2002 to the seat by her father, then Gov.-Frank Murkowski, it is misleading to call it the "gift her daddy gave her." She was elected to a full six-year term in 2004.

The Tea Party Express is the most active of the tea party groups in this year’s campaign. Its political action committee, Our Country Deserves Better, has spent $5.2 million in this campaign cycle. That includes $600,000 to help Joe Miller defeat Murkowski.

The PAC’s ad, which was released Oct. 4, ridicules Murkowski for going back on her word to support the winner of the GOP primary (which is true) because she doesn’t want "to give up the gift her daddy gave her." The Senate seat is illustrated on the screen as a cushy leather chair with the Senate seal and a big red bow. "She didn’t earn it," the ad says. That’s not exactly true.

Frank Murkowski won the 2002 governor’s race, resigned from the Senate and appointed his daughter, Lisa, to fill the remainder of his Senate term. But Lisa Murkowski earned her seat in 2004, when she defeated two-term former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles in a close race. (Sidenote: Frank Murkowski lost in the 2006 primary to Sarah Palin, who backed Miller in his race against Lisa Murkowski — adding to the bad blood between Alaska’s top two female politicians.)

The ad then accuses Murkowski of cheating to hold on to her seat. "She tried to influence the absentee vote count," the ad says. What’s the evidence of that? The ad doesn’t say. But in an e-mail, Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell cited two complaints filed with the Alaska Division of Elections “regarding Murkowski campaign observers illegally accessing confidential voter information to contact voters.” The complaints were filed on Aug. 26 and Aug. 29.

However, the Alaska Division of Elections said that it found no evidence of vote tampering, according to an Aug. 30 story in the Anchorage Daily News. The paper did say that one Murkowski observer “broke the rules by texting in the ballot room and tried to bring in a bag.” On the more serious charges, the Daily News wrote of the two complaints cited by Russell:

Daily News, Aug. 30: The Alaska Division of Elections said there was no evidence to support the Miller campaign’s claim that a Murkowski ballot observer accessed the state’s computerized election management system.

And later in the same story:

Daily News, Aug. 30: This isn’t the first Miller complaint against a Murkowski election observer. [Miller campaign attorney Thomas] Van Flein last week complained that Murkowski observer Bonnie Jack "used confidential voter information outside the voter observation confines and called a voter to resurrect a disqualified ballot." Alaska Division of Elections Director [Gail] Fenumiai said Jack did not release confidential information.

Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto also accused the National Republican Senatorial Committee of calling absentee voters on Murkowski’s behalf to ask them how they voted. DeSoto told the Anchorage Daily News at the time that the calls were made for "nefarious purposes."

Daily News, Aug. 29: "I believe, and time will prove it, (the calls) are being done for nefarious purposes," DeSoto said in the e-mail. "It is definitely not being done by the Joe Miller campaign. It is being done, I believe, by the National Republican Senatorial Committee or someone they contracted with as the beginning of a legal battle to throw out ballots."

Time did not prove that Murkowski was trying to rig the election. And the Tea Party Express hasn’t proven it, either.

The ad goes on to claim: "Then she tried to manipulate the Libertarian Party into giving her their slot on the ballot. That didn’t work either." Alaska Libertarian Party Chairman Scott Kohlhaas told the Associated Press that he met with Murkowski’s then-campaign manager, but Kohlhaas also said that Murkowski never asked for the party line and he didn’t feel manipulated. "Tempted, another story," he told the AP. "But manipulated, no."

The party’s Senate candidate, David Haase, ended the speculation when he told the Washington Times: "I will not be stepping down to allow Sen. Lisa Murkowski or anyone else to take my place as the Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate from Alaska." Shortly after, Murkowski announced her write-in campaign — taking on Miller and the Tea Party Express one more time.