Washington was caught off-guard when Republican attorney Joe Miller appeared to knock out Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday night. An official result in the election isn’t expected until next week, but Miller retains a lead of less than 2,000 votes over Murkowski, with absentee ballots yet to be counted.
Bryan Shroyer, political director for Tea Party Express, said that his organization had known the race was “within striking distance” for a while.
The Tea Party Express spent money on the race in its final days, and also stepped up a national effort to have members call Alaska voters just ahead of primary day.
“We spent about $200,000 of our independent expenditure campaign in the last seven to ten days — state-wide TV dollars,” Shroyer said.
Dave Dittman, head of the consulting firm Dittman Research & Communications Corp., said insiders in Alaska recognized momentum was building for Miller, but didn’t foresee the wave breaking on Election Day.
“Clearly he’s been closing over the past month. Everyone on the ground knew it was getting closer, but I didn’t think he would catch her and would pass her,” Dittman said in an interview with The Hill.
Dittman said he believed Murkowski’s campaign recognized the race was tightening, but not until it was too late.
“I think the Murkowski campaign got it right near the end — they put out an attack ad on Monday, but it was too late at that point because he was coming on very hard,” Dittman explained.
Since Tuesday, Murkowski has said that her own polling suggested she would win the race.
If Murkowski loses, she would be the third Senate incumbent and second incumbent Republican senator to fall in a primary.
The vote was hardly one of confidence in the Washington Republican establishment, which was supporting Murkowski.
Still, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn expressed no concerns about Murkowski’s loss, and said he was confident the Alaskan seat would stay in GOP hands this fall.
“While political pundits and the Democrats in Washington will attempt to spin this race inside the Beltway, the fact remains that voters in Alaska and across America are deeply concerned about the reckless spending and rapid growth of government that we’ve witnessed under the Obama White House and the current leadership in Congress," Cornyn said via written statement on Wednesday morning.
Democrats have argued that the Tea Party movement could benefit their party by forcing Republicans to defend extreme candidates in a general election. In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) reelection chances appeared to be bolstered by the primary victory of Sharron Angel, a Tea Party favorite.
Shroyer discounted that narrative.
“Everyone is going to be taken by surprise when Joe Miller wins in November or when Sharron Angle wins in November, are the same people that were taken by surprise by last night's election results or Sharron Angle's election night victory in Nevada," Shroyer said, noting that Tea Party Express also endorsed Angle's long-shot bid to take on Reid.