REPUBLICANS BAIL ON MILLER IN ALASKA?…. At this point, there are exactly zero U.S. Senate seats currently held by a Republican expected to flip from “red” to “blue.” There were several that looked promising for Democrats earlier in the year — Missouri, Ohio, New Hampshire, Louisiana, North Carolina, maybe even Florida — but none is still considered in play.

That said, Alaska remains a bit of a mystery.

Polling a three-way contest in which the incumbent and ostensible frontrunner isn’t on the ballot — Lisa Murkowski is instead running as a write-in candidate — is inherently tricky. Recent polls show Murkowski surging as voters sour on extremist GOP nominee Joe Miller, but whether these results come to pass remains to be seen.

Oddly enough, just yesterday, Miller’s highest-profile backer — Alaska’s former half-term governor — referred to him as a “lost cause,” though Palin seems to have meant it as some kind of compliment. ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports this morning that the Republican establishment is coming to see Miller the same way, though GOP officials don’t mean it as a positive.

A high-level GOP source tells me that party leaders have essentially given up on Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller and are now banking on a victory by write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski as the best bet for Republicans to keep the Alaska Senate seat.

Murkowski defied party leaders by running a write-in campaign after she lost the Republican primary last month. But with Miller’s campaign faltering, the source tells me that Republican leaders are now worried that Democrat Scott McAdams has a shot of winning and that Murkowski may be the only way to stop him. […]

The nightmare scenario for Republicans is that McAdams comes in second on Election Day, trailing “write-in candidate.” Those write-in votes won’t be counted unless there are more write-in votes than there are votes for any candidate on the ballot. Once the write-in votes are counted, however, some of them will inevitably be disqualified (illegible writing, wrong name, etc.). And a small number will be for candidates other than Murkowski. If enough are tossed out, second place McAdams would be the winner.

Note, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has been forced to go on the air in Alaska, after expecting to save its money for other races. If the Republicans’ priority were to elect the Republican nominee, the NRSC’s ad would be going after Murkowski with a vengeance, since she’s apparently in the lead. It’s not — the spot attacks McAdams, who Republicans obviously now consider a threat, and doesn’t mention Murkowski at all.

In the meantime, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has also taken an interest in the race, and has a new ad going after Murkowski.

A few months ago, Alaska’s Senate race was barely an afterthought. Now, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll win.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.