Murkowski claims victory in Alaska Senate race, but Miller vows to fight on

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 8:43 AM

Sen. Lisa Murkowski declared victory Wednesday and thanked Alaskans for her historic triumph as a write-in candidate in the state's closely watched Senate race.

"Today, I think it's safe to say Alaskans have chosen the path of unity, the deliberative path, the common sense path," Murkowski told supporters in Anchorage, according to the Anchorage Daily News. "And I think they've shown that through this write-in process. Can you imagine, over a hundred thousand people who wrote in the same name."

The Associated Press called the race for Murkowski on Wednesday afternoon, making her the first write-in candidate to win a Senate seat since South Carolina's Strom Thurmond in 1954.

But Joe Miller, the lawyer who defeated Murkowski in the Republican primary, said he has no plans to concede and argued that the race is far from over. In an interview on Fox News, he said that his campaign is looking into whether military ballots were mailed out in a timely manner and that he is seeking to investigate the voting machines. He said he may also request a recount, although the state may not pay for it because of Murkowski's margin of victory, which was greater than 10,000 votes as of Wednesday morning.

Miller has argued that thousands of those votes are invalid under Alaska law because Murkowski's name may be misspelled. Elections officials have ruled that minor misspellings are acceptable as long as the voter's intent is clear. The matter is being considered in the courts.

"It's not even at this point whether it's a win, lose or draw. It's a question as to whether we have consistency applied at the Division of Elections," he told Fox host Neil Cavuto. "We're going to do this even if there is a significant amount of political pressure for us to pull back and say, 'Don't do this. It's not good for your political future, Joe,' or 'This is a Custer's Last Stand type of thing.' That's not why we're doing this."

The grueling path that got Murkowski to this point had its upside: She gained legitimacy by garnering about 100,000 votes from people who had to take the trouble to spell out her name. While she said repeatedly that she remained a Republican and would continue to caucus with the GOP, she gained a following among Democrats and independents, many of whom would not have backed her were it not for her personal overtures about representing "all Alaskans."

Her historic campaign also freed her to be a forceful - if lonely - voice among Republican lawmakers critical of the tea party movement and Palin, a former Alaska governor with whom she has had a long-standing feud. While he was governor in 2001, Murkowski's father passed over Palin to appoint his daughter to an open U.S. Senate seat. Palin then beat governor Frank Murkowski in the 2006 gubernatorial race. And this year, Palin backed Miller in the Senate race.

"I do not pass the litmus test set of many. I do not pass the purity test that the tea party has set out," Lisa Murkowski told CBS's 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 in the interview that Palin lacked the "intellectual curiosity" to be president, a rare shot by a fellow Republican against the former vice presidential hopeful.

She 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 Murkowski will retain her seniority in the Senate and she has said she will fight to remain the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That has drawn objections from other senators, including Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who supported Miller and through his political action committee raised about $150,000 for Miller's post-election legal challenges.

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