By Chris Cillizza
Sunday, August 29, 2010; B02
When Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski cast her last vote -- against the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court -- and headed home to Alaska for the summer recess on Aug. 5, she seemed to have her political prospects well in hand.
Polling suggested that she had a comfortable advantage in the GOP primary over lawyer Joe Miller, who, despite winning the backing of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, seemed to be struggling to gain traction leading up to the election.
Barely three weeks later, however, Miller leads Murkowski by about 1,600 votes following Alaska's election Tuesday -- there are nearly 10,000 absentee ballots still to be counted -- in what, if he can hold on, will rightly be seen as the biggest upset of the 2010 primary election season.
The worst part of Murkowski's (potential) loss is that it almost certainly could have been prevented.
More than two months ago, Murkowski -- along with her chief of staff and political advisers -- sat in the offices of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and listened as strategists told her to go negative against Miller. They urged her to define him for voters before he could do it himself. Murkowski demurred, insisting that campaigns in Alaska aren't run that way.
As puzzling as that decision was, Murkowski's seeming unwillingness to spend down her considerable war chest in the face of the Miller challenge might be more baffling. As of Aug. 4, she had nearly $1.9 million in the bank, compared with $84,000 for Miller.
The ol' Fix is no math major, but that's a 22-to-1 cash edge, the sort of margin that, if spent properly, should have -- or, more accurately, could have -- made Murkowski untouchable. (By contrast, Republican Sen. John McCain, who won his primary in Arizona on the same day, outspent his opponent by $19 million.)
Lisa Murkowski, for committing campaign malpractice in a year when voters aren't in a forgiving mood, you had the Worst Week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
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