Joe Miller's surprise victory in the Alaska Republican Senate primary has given Democrats at least a marginal opportunity for a pick up this fall, although that will fade if Lisa Murkowski stays in the race for the general as the Libertarian candidate.
Miller leads Scott McAdams 47-39. McAdams is counteracting several of the trends causing Democrats trouble across the country this year. He's running even with independents at 42% and he's benefiting from a more unified party, getting 81% of the Democratic vote while just 73% of Republicans are committed to Miller. In most states that equation would be enough for the lead but in Alaska, where there's an 18 point Republican party identification advantage, it leaves McAdams running behind.
The reason for the closeness of the race is Miller's unpopularity. 52% of voters in the state have an unfavorable opinion of while only 36% see him positively. Democrats (84%) are almost universal in their dislike of him and independents array strongly against him as well by a 54/32 margin. His poll numbers within his own party are positive but somewhat tepid at 57/32. Miller is the latest in a long line of candidates unpopular with the general electorate that Republican primary voters have nominated this year joining Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Ken Buck. But this political climate may just be GOP friendly enough that all those folks get through in the fall anyway.
In a three way contest with Murkowski running as the Libertarian candidate Miller leads but with only 38% to 34% for Murkowski and 22% for McAdams. Democrats have been hopeful that Murkowski will run on the assumption she would split the Republican vote but her supporters actually go 47-23 for McAdams in a two way contest with Miller.
Murkowski's support is pretty evenly distributed across the board- she gets 38% of independents, 32% of Republicans, and 28% of Democrats. Miller gets 59% of the Republican vote and McAdams gets 57% of the Democratic vote.
Despite her shocking loss on Tuesday Murkowski remains one of the most popular Senators in the country in PPP's polling with her 50% approval rating placing her in the 90th percentile of the 52 Senators we've looked at this year. But her 52% approval rating with Democrats and her 51% with independents exceeds her 47% standing with Republicans and that speaks to the trouble she had with the primary electorate this week.
Only 60% of the voters who approve of Murkowski's job performance say they'd vote for her in a three way general election contest and the key to her chances would be getting more of the Democrats and Republicans who like her to vote for person over party and abandon their nominees.
If by some chance Murkowski did come back and win the Senate nomination it would be no contest in the general- she leads McAdams 60-28 in a hypothetical contest.
There's plenty more content from our Alaska poll that we'll release over the next few days including an 'exit poll' looking at the factors that drove Miller's surprise victory, how Alaskans feel about Sarah Palin and a potential White House bid, and numbers on the state's races for Governor and House.
Full results here