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Murkowski’s Alaska win creates new opportunities

The United States government today is often characterized as bitterly divided between two camps: conservatives and liberals; Republicans and Democrats. While this, unfortunately, does seem to be true, recent events in Alaska have shown that the American electoral system still has room for flexibility. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s victory over Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams in a three-way race was finally announced last week. What made this race exceptional was that Murkowski’s name was not on the ballot — she was a write-in candidate. While the Alaska Senatorial race is unlikely to set a precedent for write-in victories, we believe that the potential transformation of the two-party system that it represents, as well as Murkowski’s comeback from a primary loss, is in the nation’s best interests.

In most elections, the Republican and Democratic primaries determine the only two realistic candidates in a general election. While independent, third-party, and write-in candidates are not uncommon, they are rarely actual contenders to win a race. Primary winners have the backing of the political establishment, with all the campaign funding and high-profile visits that establishment entails. They are often forced to conform to party expectations. By running — and winning — as a write-in candidate, Murkowski is not beholden to the Republican leadership in the Senate. She can break with the party on issues of her choosing. This would send a signal that the power structures in Washington, D.C. are not set in stone. They are capable of changing to be more adaptive to constituents.

Murkowski showed that democracy can overcome institutional inertia and that primaries are just that — primary.