Alaska's Murkowski appears to be first write-in candidate to win Senate since 1954
History, the GOP, tea partyers, Sarah Palin and a mouthful of a name worked against Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She conquered them all Wednesday, becoming the first U.S. Senate candidate in 56 years to win a write-in campaign.
The victory represents a remarkable comeback for Murkowski, who lost to political newcomer Joe Miller in the Republican primary in August. It’s also a humbling moment for Palin, the former Alaska governor, 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate and Murkowski nemesis whose support was not enough to sell Miller to Alaska voters in her own backyard.
The outcome became clear after a tedious week of counting more than 100,000 handwritten ballots. Alaska election officials confirmed Wednesday that only about 700 votes remain to count, with Murkowski ahead by 10,400 votes.
Miller filed a federal lawsuit over 8,153 ballots that have been counted for her after election officials ruled that minor misspellings are acceptable if voter intent is clear. Still, he would trail by more than 2,200 votes even if he won every challenge.
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Murkowski flew from Washington, D.C., to Alaska on Wednesday, was greeted upon arrival by 500 supporters and later declared victory at an Anchorage rally, where she was greeted with chants of “We made history.”
She said the win feels a bit “mind-boggling” but that Alaskans chose the “common-sense path.”
The state Republican Party, which backed Miller, called the race for Murkowski and asked him to withdraw. Murkowski’s run caused a rift among state party officials, and party Chairman Randy Ruedrich — whom Miller once tried to oust — said the party “stands ready to embrace Lisa Murkowski as Alaska’s only Republican U.S. senator.”
“We call on Joe Miller to respect the will of the voters and end his campaign in a dignified manner,” Ruedrich said.
Palin had no immediate response.
Despite an earlier assertion that he would stop fighting if the math doesn’t work in his favor, Miller said he has no plans to concede.
In an interview on Fox News, the lawyer and tea-party favorite said his campaign is looking into whether military ballots were mailed out in a timely manner, that he is seeking to investigate the voting machines and that he may request a recount. The state isn’t obliged to pay for a recount because Murkowski’s margin of victory exceeds 0.5 percent.
The state hopes to certify the race Nov. 29; the deadline to request a recount is Dec. 4.
Murkowski, 53, becomes the first Senate candidate to win a write-in campaign since South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond in 1954. A well-known incumbent with a lot of money, she was positioned better than most obscure write-in candidates, but political operatives and academics will be studying her campaign for years. Murkowski distributed rubber bracelets with her name on them, T-shirts, even temporary tattoos.
Her historic campaign frees her to be a forceful — if lonely — voice among Republican lawmakers critical of the tea-party movement and Palin, with whom Murkowski has had a long-standing feud.
While he was governor in 2002, Murkowski’s father, Frank, passed over Palin to appoint his daughter to the Senate seat that he vacated. Palin then beat Frank Murkowski in the 2006 gubernatorial race and backed Miller in the Senate race.
Murkowski already stands against tea partyers on one hot issue — earmarks that allow lawmakers to steer federal spending to pet projects. Former GOP defenders including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell now want to ban earmarking, but Murkowski contends a ban won’t do much to reduce federal spending and would leave bureaucrats to decide spending priorities.
“I do not pass the litmus test set of many. I do not pass the purity test that the tea party has set out,” she told CBS’ Katie Couric on Monday. “I don’t think most people in my state pass that, so I have to again take it back to, ‘Well, who do I represent?’ “
She also said Palin lacked the “intellectual curiosity” to be president, a rare shot by a fellow Republican against the former vice-presidential hopeful.
Murkowski does not return to Washington with the same status as before, however. She resigned from her post as vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference when she decided to mount her outsider write-in bid, a position she is not likely to regain.
But she has said she will fight to remain the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, despite the objections of some, including Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who supported Miller and through his political-action committee raised about $150,000 for Miller’s postelection legal challenges.
Compiled from The Associated Press, The Washington Post and the Anchorage Daily News