With only a few hundred absentee ballots left to be counted, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, appears to have pulled off a come-from-behind win, keeping her seat with the first successful Senate write-in campaign in more than 50 years, and beating the Tea Party candidate endorsed by former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
The final vote count was expected to be announced late Wednesday, but with a more than 2,000-vote lead in unchallenged ballots, it appeared to be all over except for the lawsuits. At the end of Tuesday's counting of write-in and absentee ballots Murkowski had 92,715 votes free and clear, with another 8,153 which had been challenged but were declared valid by state officials. Tea Party candidate Joe Miller had 90,448 votes.
Murkowski has invited supporters to join her at Laborers Hall in Anchorage after the final vote count is posted.
While Murkowski's campaign staff was claiming victory, a spokesman for Tea Party candidate Joe Miller was saying they may be demanding a hand recount of all Nov. 2 ballots. Miller originally said he would fight the results in court if a Murkowski victory margin included ballots that were challenged by Miller's poll-watchers but approved and counted by the state's division of elections.
Since it appears Murkowski is winning even without including the challenged ballots, the Miller campaign has raised the possibility of a recount. He says the state's computerized voting system is "suspect" and that the returns from the Nov. 2 election should be counted again -- by hand, the Anchorage Daily News reported.
The elections division, however, has said it doesn't count by hand, but uses scanners, and also that the state only pays for a recount if the margin is very close; it doesn't appear the results of this election will qualify.
Incumbent Murkowski's reelection had been considered a sure thing and her campaigning for the Republican nomination was underwhelming. With Tea Party funding, Palin's support and a strong get-out-the-vote effort, Miller pulled off a primary upset. With just under 100,000 ballots cast in the primary, Miller was ahead by less than 2,000 votes in a count of absentee ballots when Murkowski conceded the nomination.
After that loss Murkowski pulled out all the stops, running as a write-in independent candidate in the general election and coaching voters on how to spell her name.
Murkowski, appointed to the Senate from Alaska in 2002 by her father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, had risen to prominence in Washington, notably as the ranking minority member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A moderate Republican, Murkowski has worked closely in bipartisan fashion with Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to get more legislation passed out of their committee than any other in the Senate. Compromise is not currently fashionable, however, and her cooperation has earned her the description as a "partial Republican" by some of her colleagues in Washington and in Alaska.
She has worked hard for the oil and gas industry, not only in Alaska but nationwide. Murkowski, 53, has supported expanded offshore oil and gas drilling, and opening part of Alaska's Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge to drilling. More recently, Murkowski has objected to a bill that would raise the liability cap for oil spills to $10 billion from its existing $75 million.
She has said she will caucus with the Republicans and she is expected to retain her ranking minority member status on the Senate Energy Committee.
The state of Alaska, which survives by virtue of a high level of federal subsidies, had a lot to lose without a senator in a senior position in Washington. The state's other senator, Democrat Mark Begich, was elected in 2008.
Murkowski will be the first senator elected on a write-in vote since Sen. Strom Thurmond in 1954.
©Copyright 2010 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.