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Tempers flare in Alaska vote count: Lisa Murkowski gains on Joe Miller

Sen. Lisa Murkowski narrowed her 1,668-vote deficit to challenger Joe Miller from last Tuesday's GOP primary in Alaska – but only by 208. More votes remain to be counted.

By Staff writer / August 31, 2010

Regional AccuVote board members Rica Gaines, left, and Beth Madren process ballots on Tuesday, at the Alaska Division of Elections offices in Anchorage, Alaska.

Dan Joling/AP

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Things aren't looking good for Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

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As the counting of outstanding ballots in Alaska's Republican primary got under way Tuesday, Senator Murkowski narrowed her 1,668-vote deficit to challenger Joe Miller, who took a surprise, albeit slim lead in last Tuesday's primary. With more than 5,000 new votes counted, Murkowski cut her deficit by 208 votes. But it's doubtful she'll pick up enough to overturn the results, experts suggest.

As the counting continues, animosity is heating up between the two candidates. Mr. Miller called for Alaska state troopers to be dispatched to election offices, accusing Murkowski's campaign of tampering with the count – allegations Murkowski quickly called paranoid. He says, among other charges, that Murkowski ballot observers brought an illegal iPhone into an election office and accessed the state's computerized election system.

He also accused the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) of being behind phone calls to voters asking how they voted. "National folk" are trying to "skew the results" in favor of Murkowski, he told ABC/Washington Post's "Top Line." The Alaska Division of Elections says there is no evidence to support Miller's claims, which some see as an attempt by Miller – and the Tea Party Express backing him – to drum up more funds.

If Murkowski loses, she'll be the third incumbent senator to fall in a primary this election season, after Sen. Robert Bennett (R) of Utah and Sen. Arlen Specter (D) of Pennsylvania. She went into the primary a favorite, with nearly $2 million in her war chest to Miller's $84,000, and far greater name recognition.

But she sat on her funds and ignored the NRSC's advice to run tough, negative ads until the last few days before the election. Miller, meanwhile, picked up a valuable endorsement from Sarah Palin and worked hard to paint Murkowski as a liberal in disguise – one who was moderate on abortion and had voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Counting the remaining outstanding ballots will continue for another week or so. Election officials have about 25,000 absentee, early, and contested ballots to count, and they were expecting to get through about 15,000 of them Tuesday.

But few people expect Murkowski to prevail, and the conversation is starting to shift to Miller's positions, including his belief that unemployment benefits are unconstitutional and that the Department of Education should be eliminated. In the heavily Republican state, he's almost a shoo-in to be elected in November.

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