MURKOWSKI MAKES ALASKA’S SENATE RACE A THREE-WAY CONTEST…. It’s been about three weeks since right-wing lawyer Joe Miller stunned the political world, defeating incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s Republican Senate primary, but it was clear the race wasn’t quite settled. Murkowski didn’t endorse Miller, and was openly exploring her options.

Last week, reading the tea leaves, Republican leaders on the Hill told Murkowski if she ran against Miller, she would have to resign her post in the party’s Senate leadership. Late yesterday, she did just that. Soon after, Murkowski launched a write-in re-election campaign.

“Alaskans deserve a fighter in the United States Senate who will always stand up for Alaska, who understands our great potential, and has the experience, the respect and the seniority to accomplish that,” Murkowski said. “I am that Senator.”

Murkowski also took a shot at former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, saying she is “one Republican woman who won’t quit on Alaska.”

She admitted that she did not go after Miller enough in the primary, something the national party had pushed her to do. But she signaled that was about to change.

“We made some mistakes,” Murkowski said. “When he swung, I didn’t swing back. Well, ladies and gentleman, the gloves are off.”

The announcement sets up a three-way contest pitting Murkowski against Miller and Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams. (If one includes Libertarian Party nominee David Haase, it’s a four-way race.)

The next question, of course, is trying to guess who might win. A reasonable case can be made for any of them.

Miller, the ostensible front-runner, has the advantage of enjoying the enthusiastic support of the Republican Party in a state where Republicans tend to dominate. Despite a bizarre right-wing ideology and an agenda better suited to the political fringe, polls show Miller leading the pack, though he isn’t especially well known statewide, and has fairly high negatives.

Murkowski, meanwhile, has plenty of money still in the bank and universal name recognition. The very nature of write-in campaigns makes success unlikely, but it’s not unprecedented. As for difficulties voters might have spelling her name, Alaska’s elections secretary “is prepared to take a fairly liberal interpretation of voter intent. Ballots that misspell Ms. Murkowski’s surname would probably be counted, for instance, and so might ballots that identified her by her given name (e.g. ‘Lisa M.’).”

As for McAdams, it’s very difficult for a Democrat to win statewide in Alaska, especially in a year that looks to be very favorable for Republicans. But Murkowski’s effort almost certainly improves his chances, at least a little, by raising the specter of splitting the conservative vote. The last major three-way race in Alaska — 1994’s gubernatorial race — propelled Tony Knowles (D) to victory.

In a year like this one, anything’s possible.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.