Lisa Murkowski

Welcome to TNR’s 2011 List Issue. In putting the issue together, we had one major priority: to avoid creating a power list featuring anyone who regularly dominates headlines. Instead, we had a different idea: What if we revealed something about D.C. by documenting who quietly wields power? From there, we began to hatch other ideas for lists, and we realized that—while they can certainly be cheap gimmicks—lists can also convey a lot about a city. Below is the first list from the issue: Washington’s most powerful, least famous people.

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Conservative Crosshairs

Republicans are poised to take over the U.S. Senate in 2012. This isn't contingent on a GOP presidential win, or even a particularly good campaign year, but rather on the extremely tilted Senate playing field created by the 2006 Democratic landslide. Yet, oddly, that is no comfort for many sitting Republican senators, who may face savage primary challenges if they are even perceived to slight the conservative base.

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So how's that Republican war on pork holding up? All week, conservatives like Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn have been pushing their fellow senators to put a two-year moratorium on earmarks. They've managed to persuade Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and even Mississippi's prime porker, Thad Cochran, has just grudgingly acceded ("I remain unconvinced that fiscal prudence is effectively advanced by ceding to the Obama administration our constitutional authority to determine federal expenditures, but an earmark moratorium is the will of the Republican Conference.").

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While it has yet to be determined whether Alaskans can spell, they certainly can fill in the oval. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski seems to have held onto her seat through her insurgent campaign, with write-ins making up 41 percent of the vote. Tea Party candidate and official GOP nominee Joe Miller received 34 percent, with Democrat Scott McAdams bringing in 24 percent. Now begins the actual counting of the write-in, absentee, and questioned ballots, and—potentially—legal challenges from the Miller camp. It’ll be three weeks before there’s an official result.

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It's still early in the day in here in Alaska, where voters are just heading to the polls. But all week it has been clear that Democratic Senate candidate Scott McAdams is in a bind. “The most disappointing part of this race is that people, instead of voting the issues, are actually voting their fears,” says McAdams's spokesperson, Heather Handyside.

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Anchorage, Alaska—It’s the Saturday afternoon before Election Day, and El Tango, an Argentine restaurant in midtown Anchorage, is packed for a campaign event. About 50 people, mostly women, are bustling around and chatting about immigration reform, education, and, occasionally, how extreme the Tea Party movement is. One person sits in the back of the room reading about the foreclosure crisis. The attendees are from numerous ethnic groups; everything from Spanish to Somali is being spoken.

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Over the weekend, leading Republicans have expressed concern over Tea Party favorite Joe Miller's collapse in Alaska, even going so far as to express tacit support for Lisa Murkowski's write-in campaign to stave off a win by Democrat Scott McAdamas. But now in the latest poll, Miller is ahead, 37-30-30. What's crazy is that this is happening despite Miller's utter rejection by the electorate, and despite McAdams being the most popular candidate of the three by far: Miller is winning despite having the worst personal favorability numbers of the three candidates.

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One fascinating angle on Lisa Murkowski's write-in campaign for Senate is the question of what kind of Senator she'll be if she wins. In particular, is she going to reinvent herself as a post-partisan centrist?

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According to CNN, a new poll shows Miller 38, Murkowski 36, McAdams 22. Daniel Foster, referring to the fact that Murkowski requires write-in votes to spell her name correctly, asks, "have they polled how well Murkowsky does against Miller?" It's an important issue. I'm not normally in the business of advising politicians, but if I'm Murkowski, I use this slogan and beat it to death: Murkowski with an I. The I is for "independent." Update: In fact, voters don't need to spell her name correctly, or even close to correctly.

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Lisa Murkowski's write-in campaign for Senate in Alaska is one of the more interesting races out there. Like Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist, Murkowski lost (or, in the cases of the others, faced the prospect of losing) a primary and decided not to go gently into that good night. I actually have a procedural problem with a candidate going through a primary, where both candidates are putatively bound to support the winner in the general election, and then breaking that implicit pledge when it doesn't go her way.

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