Until this month,when she was briefly a national figure for her party-line-breaking vote on a Supreme Court nomination, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski merited political attention for an entirely different kind of reason.
She is one of the few people in recent generations at least to win high office in this country through a write-in campaign. She did that in 2010, as a first-term senator who lost her party’s primary but came back to win the general election as a write-in. (In 2016 the Republican Party did renominate her for a third term, which she won.)
That was so remarkable because it’s hardly ever accomplished, for high office or lower. (Strom Thurmond in 1954 was the only other occasion of such a win for a Senate seat.) Ordinarily, when you hear about contenders trying to win through write-in, without the advantage of a visible spot on the ballot, you’re best off to, let’s say, minimize their chances.
Many non-incumbent candidates will tell you how hard it can be to become reasonably well known around the electorate even with a ballot spot to help out. Invisibility there makes it a lot harder.
Still, that’s not to say they have no chance at all. And at least one legislative contest in Idaho might put that to the test.
In all, six candidates have filed in Idaho to run as write-ins. Two are for major offices: Michael Rath of Saint Maries for the first district U.S. representative and Lisa Marie of Boise for governor. There’s a state House candidate in District 23 (a district based in Elmore County), Tony Ullrich from Hammett.
Two of the write-ins are better known, and in fact were on the ballot only a few months ago. Peter Rickards of Twin Falls ran this year for the Democratic nomination for the second district U.S. House seat; now he’s running for state Senate against an otherwise unopposed Republican incumbent. Rickards’ odds are not good, but his experience of many years as a candidate may add some interest to the race.
The most interesting situation is in District 32, in the rural southeast corner of the state. In May long-time Representative Tom Loertscher, a Republican, lost his party’s nomination in an upset to Chad Christensen of Idaho Falls. Loertscher has been a mainstay of legislative politics in that area since his first election to the House in 1986 (and he was a Bonneville County commissioner before that). Now he’s trying to do exactly what Lisa Murkowski did in 2010, return as a write-in by defeating his own party’s nominee.
In some ways Loertscher fits the profile of the kind of candidate who might be able to pull it off. He’s deeply experienced and connected in the area, is familiar to a lot of people there and for that reason he might be more advantaged running in a general election than in a primary.
Running as a write-in is nonetheless tough, and Loertscher has an added burden in this case: A sixth write-in contender also has filed in that same district. That candidate, Ralph Mossman of Driggs, seems to be drawing more support from the Democratic side (his web site lists support from the Idaho Education Association and former Democratic Representative Richard Stallings, for example). But he, like Loertscher, is listed as an independent write-in, so the fallout is far from clear.
Hard campaigning work will be central here. The numbers generated on election day should be fascinating.
A personal disclosure is needed here. My wife is running for city council in our small town, one of three candidates for three open seats. There’s no declared opposition, not even on the write-in level, as yet. That means her odds of winning next month are pretty good.
But she’s campaigning anyway. After all, you can never take those write-ins for granted ...