Murkowski in a Strong Position in Alaska

Murkowski in a Strong Position in Alaska

By Scott Conroy - November 4, 2010

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski appears well positioned to become the first successful Senate write-in candidate since Strom Thurmond of South Carolina pulled off the feat in 1954.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, "write-in candidate" was leading Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller - who defeated Murkowski in the August Republican primary - 41 percent to 34 percent. The Murkowski campaign estimates that only a few hundred of the 83,201 ballots cast for "write-in candidate" were intended for someone other than Murkowski, although the Miller campaign has suggested that the number could be much higher than that.

Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, the Democratic nominee, conceded the race to Murkowski on Wednesday afternoon after finishing in third place with 24 percent of the vote. McAdams, a previously unknown Democrat who was thought to have run a surprisingly viable campaign, hinted to reporters that he would consider running again in the future, according to local media reports.

An Alaska Division of Elections spokesperson said that the counting of absentee ballots will begin next Tuesday in Juneau, and that the write-in ballot count will begin by hand the day after, on Wednesday, November 10.

The Murkowski campaign's biggest concern going into Election Day was that their voters would neglect to fill in the bubble next to the "write-in candidate" line, but only about 2,000 voters who cast their ballots in Alaska did not indicate a preference in the Senate race.

The Murkowski camp exceeded its goals of winning 40 percent of the vote and leading Miller by 10,000 votes, as "write-in candidate" led the GOP nominee by more than 13,000 votes.

While no one is celebrating publicly just yet, Murkowski officials have been heartened by indications that the Alaska Division of Elections will take a liberal position on assessing voter intent, in regard to voters who may have misspelled Murkowski's name.

"We feel very confident the state of Alaska is not going to disenfranchise 13,000 voters who intended to vote for Lisa Murkowski," a Murkowski official told RealClearPolitics.

But the Miller campaign is showing no signs of throwing in the towel. Miller emailed supporters on Wednesday, telling them that the race was a "cliffhanger."

"Before this election can be declared over, ballots must be counted," Miller wrote. "We are extremely optimistic that we will ultimately win."

Miller's email cited an "approaching legal battle" and asked for financial contributions, noting that in past Alaska write-in campaigns, "as much as 5 to 6%" of write-in ballots have been discounted.

"As with any write-in campaign, the burden of execution rests with the candidate whose name is not printed on the ballot," Miller wrote. "Candidates who mount a write-in campaign opt for an uphill battle. At this point, without a single write-in ballot counted, Lisa Murkowski has no claim on a victory."

Miller's email alluded to Murkowski's legal team of "Washington insiders," an apparent reference to the Murkowski campaign's move to put on retainer famed Republican attorney Ben Ginsberg, who played a pivotal role in the 2000 Florida recount as national counsel to the Bush/Cheney 2000 presidential campaign. But Ginsberg remains in Washington for the time being, and his direct services in Alaska will only be called upon if needed.

Murkowski appeared to have put in a strong showing across the geographically diverse state. Murkowski did particularly well in the Anchorage area - home to about half of the state's population - where she finished with about 44 percent of the vote. The senator also benefited from strong turnout in rural areas, where she remains exceedingly popular among Alaska Natives.

Miller was strongest in the Mat-Su Valley, a socially conservative enclave outside of Anchorage, where he won over 50 percent of the vote. Miller also finished in first place in his home base of Fairbanks, but it was not enough to overcome Murkowski's dominance around the capital city of Juneau, where independent voters appear to have flocked to her in large numbers.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

Latest On Twitter