AP calls Alaska Senate race for Lisa Murkowski - Joe Miller disagrees

After laborious vote counting, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski appears to have won her write-in campaign against tea party favorite Joe Miller. But Miller is challenging the vote count in court.

Harry Hamburg/AP
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R) of Alaska, rides the subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 16. She appears to have won her historic write-in bid for reelection over fellow Republican and tea party favorite Joe Miller.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska seems certain to have won her historic write-in bid for reelection, defeating fellow Republican and tea party favorite Joe Miller as well as notching a personal victory against her long-time rival Sarah Palin.

According to the Associated Press, Senator Murkowski’s win became clear when election officials announced that they had only about 700 votes left to count – fewer than the more than 2,000 votes she was leading by at that point in a drawn-out examination of hand-written ballots.

Wednesday afternoon, Murkowski was flying back to Alaska from Washington, promising an “exciting announcement” about a revitalized campaign that “made history.”

Still, Mr. Miller has yet to concede. In one of several lawsuits, he insists that Murkowski’s name had to be perfectly spelled on the write-in ballots – not just close enough so that voters’ intentions were clear, which is how election officials were tallying ballots. His campaign also has suggested the possibility of voter fraud in Alaska’s computerized voting system, and a campaign spokesman told the Anchorage Daily News it would press for a hand recount of all ballots cast.

The saga began when Miller, backed by the California-based Tea Party Express, which spent nearly $600,000 on his campaign, beat Murkowski in the Republican primary election. Rather than simply withdraw following her humbling defeat, Murkowski announced that she would run as a write-in candidate – a very long shot of the kind that had not succeeded since South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond pulled it off in 1954.

Murkowski spent much of the time between primary and general elections massaging her constituency, taking a much more aggressive stand against Miller than she had before, and using a variety of gimmicks to teach Alaskans how to spell M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I.

When ballots were initially counted, Miller had 35 percent, Democrat Scott McAdams had 24 percent, and write-in candidates had 40 percent. That was the point at which the slow process of tallying absentee and write-in ballots began two weeks ago.

As Monitor correspondent Yereth Rosen reported, Murkowski owes her apparent reelection to big support from Alaska natives. Usually reliable Democratic voters, they as well as some Democrats and environmentalists voted for Murkowski rather than Mr. McAdams in a bid to prevent Miller from winning.

While spelling on write-in ballots may have been a hurdle for Murkowski's campaign, the name itself is very familiar in Alaska politics. Her father Frank Murkowski held statewide office for 25 years – first as a US senator, then as the state’s governor.

If Murkowski’s win is officially confirmed, it will have been an uphill fight, not only against the tea party – including former Gov. Palin, who had made a show of endorsing Miller – but against a Republican Party establishment that quickly backed Miller, helping finance his post-election legal team.

Relations with her fellow Republicans in the Senate could be frosty, at least for a while. But Murkowski says she would continue to caucus with the GOP.

Miller told Fox News that he will decide at the end of the week whether the campaign will request a recount.

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