Could the Libertarians Spoil Alaska for the GOP?


John McCain isn't the most popular Republican for Alaskans. On Super Tuesday he placed fourth in the state's caucus, behind Ron Paul. McCain's opposed to drilling in ANWR, a real political anomaly for a Republican in this state—even most state Democrats want to start the drills spinning. So I'm not surprised to see that a Research 2000 poll (conducted for Daily Kos) shows McCain leading Barack Obama by only 7 points, 49-42, even though George W. Bush beat John Kerry 61-36. Actually, I think McCain could lose the state. Two reasons.

1) The Republican brand is shattered in Alaska. Gov. Sarah Palin is popular, but she became governor by primary-ing the loathsome Frank Murkowski. Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, both on the ballot this year, are more in the Murkowski mold. And right now they're both losing to Democrats.

2) Alaskan voters, all 470,000-odd of them, are unusually amenable to third parties. In 2000, Ralph Nader crested 10 percent of the vote here. In 1992, Ross Perot got 28 percent. The Libertarian Party's best ever state result was Ed Clark's 12 percent haul in 1980—I'm pretty sure he knocked Jimmy Carter into third place in some precincts.

So a lot of the scaffolding is there that could make this state a Libertarian target. Bob Barr, for example, voted for drilling in ANWR, and could lace into McCain on the issue. A higher-than-normal number of Alaskans will be voting Democratic down the ballot, and might want to split it…and hey, there'll be another conservative candidate they can vote for if they can't stomach Obama. (The Constitution Party's Chuck Baldwin will be on the ballot, too.) If the LP shot for a 1980-sized 10 percent of the vote—around 30,000 ballots—it's possible to see Obama winning the state with 45 percent.

Caveats: I talked with 1992 LP candidate/former Alaska office-holder Andre Marrou few months back, and he was incredibly pessimistic about the LP's chances in the state because he thought the brand was so damaged. Also, Ralph Nader will probably make it on the ballot, but his total probably won't even match the 1.4 percent he got in 2004. But it's still something to watch if the race gets close. Obama will have the money to spend if the spirit moves him, although it would be a time-suck for either him or McCain to take a detour to Anchorage. (We all laugh at Richard Nixon's 1960 trip to Fairbanks, but he only won the state by 1,000 votes.)