Lisa Murkowski concedes to Joe Miller in Alaska. The power of Palin?

Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator, conceded the race in Alaska to Joe Miller, a Tea Party candidate backed by Sarah Palin.

Bill Roth/The Anchorage Daily News/AP
Sen. Lisa Murkowski gave a concession speech at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage on Tuesday, Aug. 31, one week after primary election voters picked Joe Miller to be the Alaska republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

In arguably the biggest political upset of the year in the U.S., a little-known conservative lawyer from Alaska backed by Sarah Palin claimed the Republican nomination for Senate by beating incumbent Lisa Murkowski.

Joe Miller's win was a major victory for the anti-tax tea party movement and marked the first time it had defeated a sitting senator in a primary.

Tea partiers had knocked off Utah Senator Bob Bennett at a state convention in May, and emboldened organizers now have their sights set on Delaware, where they are backing Christine O'Donnell against the more moderate Rep. Mike Castle in the Republican Senate primary.

Murkowski is the third senator to lose this year amid deep dissatisfaction with the Washington establishment. Bennett and Arlen Specter, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, were the others.

She trailed Miller - an Ivy League-educated lawyer, West Point graduate and decorated Gulf War veteran - by 1,668 votes after the Aug. 24 primary.

Election officials began counting absentee and outstanding ballots Tuesday, and Murkowski made slight gains. But after more than 15,000 ballots were counted, she remained 1,630 votes behind.

The stunning result was a huge validation of the political power of Palin as the former Alaska governor has been playing kingmaker in midterm elections before a potential 2012 White House run.

Miller cast Murkowski as too liberal and part of the problem in an out-of-control Washington. It is a campaign strategy that has helped oust other incumbents this year and that Republicans will employ again in November as they look to take back Congress.

Miller, 43, will face Democrat Scott McAdams, a small town mayor, in the November general election. The former commercial fisherman was given little chance against Murkowski, and as of June 30 had raised less than $10,000.

But Democrats figure his chances are better against Miller, and they plan to present him as a moderate, rational alternative.
Associated Press writers Becky Bohrer in Juneau and Rachel D'Oro and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage contributed to this report.

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