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Despite Alaska Senate race results, Joe Miller presses on in principle

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 27, 2010; 9:37 PM

Much of America may have moved on, but Joe Miller has not. More than a week after the last vote was counted in Alaska's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the Republican nominee continues to press his case in court in hopes of grabbing back a victory that once seemed inevitable.

Never mind that the incumbent, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), has already declared that she made history by mounting the first successful write-in campaign for Senate in more than 50 years. Or that the Alaska Republican Party has called on Miller to "end his campaign in a dignified manner." Or that there is but a sliver of a chance he could win even if all his court challenges prove successful.

Miller, a tea party favorite who beat Murkoswki in the GOP primary, has alleged bias on the part of state officials as well as voter fraud, arguing that some of the ballots have suspiciously similar handwriting. He has attacked the state Division of Elections for accepting minor misspellings of Murkowski's name. He has complained that the hand-count of the write-in ballots started too early to give him enough time to train his volunteers to monitor the outcome.

And he has asked for a hand recount of all the ballots, saying the machine-counted votes that went largely for him should receive the same scrutiny - and potentially benefit of the doubt - as the write-in ones cast for Murkowski.

"Lisa Murkowski's were counted by hand, allowing those not automatically tallied by the voting machines to be reviewed and counted. If Miller's ballots were given the same review, he will likely gain numerous votes," Randy DeSoto, a Miller campaign spokesman, said in an e-mail.

According to the state's unofficial results, Murkowski won a solid victory with about 40 percent of the vote. Miller received about 35 percent, and 23 percent went to Democrat Scott McAdams, who has conceded defeat.

Miller's campaign has flagged about 8,000 votes as problematic because of misspellings and other problems. But even if a judge sided with Miller and ordered all those votes thrown out, he would fall short.

"I'm just going to be very straightforward here. I think that race is over," said former congressman Norm Coleman, a Republican who was defeated in the 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota. That contest dragged on for eight months after Election Day as the candidates battled in court before Democrat Al Franken was declared the winner.

"The counting's been done. I'm not sure that anything is going to change," Coleman said in a C-SPAN interview set to air Sunday. "Without criticizing Joe Miller, I would offer him advice . . . that I think it's time to move on, that there's not much you can gain by extending the process."

More at stake

After losing the Republican primary to Miller, Murkowski decided to stay in the race as a write-in candidate. She blanketed the state to teach voters to spell her name, an effort that paid off dramatically Nov. 2.

To Miller's ardent backers - still reeling from the events that led to this point - his continuing fight is neither frivolous nor quixotic. It is a principled stand by a man whose challenge of an establishment candidate they view as too moderate inspired a conservative groundswell.

Indeed, just three months ago, Miller seemed a shoo-in. He was so confident that in September he tweeted, "Think I'll do some house-hunting while I'm in D.C." That dispatch was followed a few moments later by, "Guess I should pick out some office furniture, as well, while in D.C."

A short time later, Miller, a former government attorney, acknowledged that in 2008 he had used work computers for campaigning purposes and lied about it. His image also took a hit when his personal security guards handcuffed a reporter who wanted to ask Miller about the controversy.

Miller's most ardent supporters say they are concerned by the allegations of fraud and negligence - and that more is at stake than the outcome of one race.

"I don't think it's a win or lose for him at this point," said Greg Pugh, a campaign volunteer from Wasilla. "What he's trying to say is, there were certain anomalies that have happened and the law has not been upheld. He wants to see that the election process has integrity for future elections."

Unanswered question

State officials have vigorously defended their process, which they say has been guided by a desire to allow the maximum number of votes to be counted. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell (R) called Miller's allegations baseless and harmful to the public trust. Miller's campaign responded by calling Campbell biased and saying he took actions that favored Murkowski.

Last week, Murkowski's campaign jumped into the legal battle, asking to intervene in a dispute that has largely taken place between Miller and the state. Murkowski argues that if the race is not certified quickly, she could lose the seniority she was allowed to keep despite having run against the Republican nominee.

For some of Miller's backers, there is but one question left: Should misspellings of a candidate's name count? Regardless of the outcome of the race, leaving that question unanswered would be a disservice to the public, said Eddie Burke, a tea party activist and radio talk show host from Anchorage. But Burke acknowledges that Miller's political future could be at risk if he presses the case too long and fails.

"He has two things to worry about. He has his future political reputation, but he also has right and wrong on the line. If wrong was done, then it needs to be corrected," Burke said last week. "I think by next week, either Joe has to have some pretty compelling evidence to show the public, or he needs to just fold up his luggage and just call it a day."

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