Murkowski claims victory in grueling election battle

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) declared victory Wednesday night as a write-in candidate in Alaska's closely watched Senate race, telling a cheering audience: "Against all odds, we as Alaskans, together, made history."

Murkowski led fellow Republican Joe Miller by more than 10,000 votes Wednesday, and Alaska elections officials confirmed that they had only about 700 more write-in votes to count. That prompted the Associated Press to call the race for the incumbent.

Murkowski is the first write-in candidate to win a Senate seat since South Carolina's Strom Thurmond in 1954. She returned to Anchorage from Washington to celebrate with her backers, telling them, "Today, I think it's safe to say Alaskans have chosen the path of unity, the deliberative path, the common-sense path."

But Miller, the lawyer who defeated Murkowski in the Republican primary, prompting her write-in candidacy, 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.

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.

The grueling path that got Murkowski to this point had its upsides: 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 drawn by her 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 Sarah Palin, a former Alaska governor with whom she has long feuded.

"I do not pass the litmus test set of many. I do not pass the purity test that the tea party has set out," 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 nominee.

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 write-in bid, and she is not likely to regain the position.

But she will retain her seniority in the Senate, and she has said she will fight to remain the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That has drawn objections from other senators, including Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who supported Miller.

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