Sen. Lisa Murkowski concedes shock defeat in GOP Alaska primary

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) conceded defeat Tuesday night after failing to gain enough votes on Republican challenger Joe Miller in Tuesday's count of absentee ballots.

Speaking at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage, Murkowski said that, based on the vote count, "I don't see a scenario where the primary will turn out in my favor."

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Murkowski's concession completes what is one of the most shocking upsets of the political season to this point, and marks the third primary defeat of a sitting senator in 2010.

Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) both lost their bids for their respective party nominations earlier this year. 

Miller, who was backed by the Tea Party Express and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), will face Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D) in November's general election. The seat is expected to remain in Republican hands.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas), who backed Murkowski in the primary, pledged his support to Miller.

"The NRSC is committed to doing everything that we can in order to ensure Joe Miller’s victory this November, and I have no doubt that he will be elected as the next U.S. Senator from Alaska," Cornyn said in a statement Tuesday night.

He also praised Murkowski.

"On a personal note, I thank my friend and colleague Senator Lisa Murkowski for her work on behalf of Alaska and our country. In conceding this evening and avoiding a long and costly recount, she has once again put Alaska first, displaying the same selfless service that she is known for in the halls of Congress," he said.

Murkoswki called Miller on Tuesday to concede, but didn't endorse him when she spoke to reporters at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage. 

Miller led Murkowski by less than 3,000 votes after the Aug. 24 primary, prompting state officials to begin tallying absentee ballots.

State elections officials tallied some 15,000 votes Tuesday — the vast majority of the remaining ballots. Given that Murkowski picked up less than 200 votes from that batch, it was unlikely that she would be able to overtake Miller. 

Miller began the day with a lead of 1,668 votes, and as of 5 p.m. local time in Alaska, he still led by 1,469.

Murkowski wasn't initially expected to face a strong challenge in 2010, but Miller's campaign got an early jolt from Palin and the Tea Party Express.


Even though Tea Party activists have provided the fuel for several primary upsets this election season, the conventional wisdom ahead of Alaska’s contest was that it would mark a rare success for the incumbent this primary season. That did not happen, however.

The Tea Party Express dropped more than $500,000 on TV and radio ads to aid Miller's campaign, and he had the backing of Palin and of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, both rumored presidential contenders in 2012.

Palin, who endorsed Miller in June, recorded a last-minute robocall for the campaign that went out to voters the Monday before the primary. She also posted a fundraising appeal on her Facebook page that Monday trumpeting Miller's efforts to raise $30,000 for a late TV buy. She did not campaign with him.

Miller credited Palin with helping his victory.

The former Alaska governor tweeted Tuesday night: "Do you believe in miracles?! ... Congratulations, @JoeWMiller! Thank you for your service, Sen. Murkowski. On to November!"

Another potential factor that may have worked in Miller's favor was a ballot measure that would mandate parental notification of abortion for teenagers age 17 and under. Miller told the Anchorage Daily News last week that supporters of the measure likely helped increase his vote share against Murkowski.



Murkowski was appointed to the seat in a controversial move by her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, in 2002. Despite vows from both parties that she would be ousted in 2004, Murkowski won her bid for a full term that year.


She is the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

—This story was updated at 10:56 p.m., 11:02 p.m., and 11:32 p.m.