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One of the hottest contests in Tuesday's U.S. midterm elections is the Alaskan Senate race, where the candidate considered by some to be the front-runner is not even listed on the official ballot. Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican, is running as a write-in candidate and is poised to win, according to some analysts.

Her opponents, Democrat Scott McAdams, and Republican Joe Miller, have been oddly united across party lines against Ms. Murkowski, who has waged a surprisingly strong campaign against all odds. Regardless of whether Ms. Murkowski wins, her candidacy has had a significant effect on the race. To some extent, she is sure to split the Republican vote, transforming conservative Alaska into what could prove to be the Democrats' best chance to pick up a Senate seat.

Meanwhile, the Republicans' bitter rivalry has exposed divisions within the party. Mr. Miller, who has the backing of the Washington Republican and Tea Party establishment, has failed to carve out a substantial lead in the polls, despite (or perhaps because of) a high-profile endorsement from Sarah Palin. Ms. Murkowski, in contrast, has proven an unexpectedly strong opponent. Some Republican analysts now say she represents the party's best chance to hold onto their Senate seat.

The Contenders

Scott McAdams, the Democrat Candidate

Mr. McAdams has served as mayor of Sitka, Alaska since 2008. His lacklustre style and relative inexperience means he has long trailed official Republican candidate Mr. Miller in the polls. However, if Republican supporters split their votes between his rivals, Mr. McAdams could represent a shining hope for Democrats. Before becoming mayor, Mr. McAdams served on the Sitka school board for six years and was president for three.

Lisa Murkowski, the Republican write-in candidate

Ms. Murkowski first came to office after inheriting her father's Senate seat in 2002. She was subsequently elected to a full term in 2004. Although her roots run deep in the Republican establishment, she was beaten by Mr. Miller, a political neophyte, by about 2,000 votes out of 10,000 cast in the Alaskan Republican primary. As a write-in candidate, she has sought to position herself as the renegade. She disagrees with Mr. Miller's calls for cuts to federal spending, and argues Mr. McAdams is too inexperienced to be effective in the Senate. Ms. Murkowski has been criticized for lacking charisma, a charge she has worked to dispel by trying to strike populist notes. During a stump speech in Fairbanks last month, she was even persuaded to sing.

Joe Miller, the official Republican candidate

Mr. Miller, a lawyer by training, is currently favoured to win the Alaskan Senate race. Despite the official backing of the Republican establishment,his initial lead has eroded. At one point, Mr. Miller's security guards handcuffed a local journalist at a campaign event when the reporter sought to question Mr. Miller about disciplinary action taken against him when he was a lawyer for Fairbanks North Star Borough, where he had been disciplined for using government computers for political purposes and then lying about it. Mr. Miller has cited East Germany and the Berlin Wall as a model of effective immigration enforcement.