Murkowski beats odds, wins write-in bid in Senate campaign

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Wednesday became the first senator in more than 50 years to win election as a write-in candidate.

She returned to her home state to declare victory at an event with supporters.

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Her unlikely triumph over Tea Party-backed Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams comes nearly two weeks after voters went to the polls. It caps a long vote-counting process that was filled with debate over voter intent, mostly concerning ballots that misspelled her last name, and featured a hand count of more than 100,000 write-in ballots.

Unofficial returns showed Murkowski’s lead growing, and The Associated Press called the race for her Wednesday afternoon.

The outcome hasn’t been certified, however, and, as of press time, it was unclear how the Miller campaign would proceed. McAdams had already conceded.

In an interview on Fox News Wednesday, after the race was officially called for Murkowski, Miller said he may press ahead in asking for a hand recount of all ballots.

“Our position is, we want to pursue this to ensure there’s integrity, to ensure there’s a consistent standard and to ensure that 1 percent difference that we’ve identified really is there,” Miller said. “And we’re going to do it even if there is a significant amount of political pressure for us to pull back and say ‘don’t do this’.”

Murkowski is the first to win a Senate race as a write-in since the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) pulled off the feat back in 1954.

The two-term senator was forced to pursue a write-in campaign after conservatives, including her political rival, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), backed Miller in his successful primary campaign. Republican leaders had lined up behind Miller, and Murkowski was stripped of her leadership position in the Senate.

Some conservatives, led by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), worked to convince the Republican Conference in the Senate to strip Murkowski of her ranking position on the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, but members ultimately declined. DeMint ended up leading the general-election charge against his Senate colleague, funding a TV ad against her through his Senate Conservatives Fund.

Murkowski hopes to retain the top Republican slot on the Energy committee in the next Congress.


She told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday: “I’m sure going to be working with all of my colleagues to make sure that the process we have on the Republican side is honored and those that are more senior will keep that spot, and I remain the most senior member on the Energy Committee.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said Republicans would decide the issue after the campaign results came in.

“It hasn’t been called yet, and I think I’d just wait until after the election is decided and then we can have a discussion, if in fact she is elected,” Cornyn said Tuesday.

The Republican Conference held its leadership elections Tuesday. Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) was elected conference vice chairman, which was Murkowski’s old leadership post. That means she’s out of the GOP leadership for the next Congress.

Aside from the distinction of being the first to win a write-in in some 50 years, Murkowski returns to D.C. as a lone symbol of Republican defiance in the face of the Tea Party movement. The senator has decried the influence of the Tea Party Express in her race and other GOP primaries over the course of 2010, labeling it an “outside extremist group.”

Over the past week, Murkowski has been reluctant to declare victory, given that thousands of write-in ballots were left to be counted, but she returned to Washington for the opening of the lame-duck session earlier this week appearing confident and upbeat.

She received a warm welcome from fellow senators on the chamber floor Monday, as well as congratulations from Cornyn.

Murkowski walked the halls of the Capitol still donning the rubber bracelet that displayed the proper spelling of her last name. Her campaign handed out thousands of them to supporters across the state as part of a vigorous voter-education campaign on the ways of Alaska’s write-in process.

Victory for Murkowksi was all but assured after thousands of additional write-in votes were counted Tuesday. According to unofficial vote totals from the state division of elections, Murkowski led with 100,868 votes to Miller’s 90,448.

The number of ballots challenged by Miller’s legal team for either improper spelling of Murkowski’s name or other irregularities stood at just over 8,000, meaning the incumbent’s margin over Miller is more than the number of disputed ballots in the race. Even if Miller decided to forge ahead with his legal challenge and succeeded in getting all of those contested ballots thrown out, Murkowski would still come out on top.

It was a scenario the Miller campaign previously had said would lead it to fold its legal efforts and cede defeat to Murkowski, but as of press time there was no official concession from Miller.

The Miller campaign has raised concerns over ballots that appear to be written in similar handwriting and questioned the security firm tasked with securing the counting process.

Alexander Bolton contributed to this article.