Sen. Lisa Murkowski is well on her way to pulling off a stunning upset victory in the Alaska Senate race after one day of counting write-in votes, despite Republican nominee Joe Miller’s legal challenges to the process.
Murkowski took nearly 98 percent of the 19,203 write-in ballots counted Wednesday, with more than 8 percent of those awarded to her after an initial challenge by Miller over voters’ spelling abilities was thrown out.
Should Murkowski prevail it will be a rare historical event; no write-in candidate has won a Senate seat since Strom Thurmond in 1954. Her campaign largely focused on teaching voters “M-u-r-k-o-w-s-k-i,” a name that’s familiar given that her father Frank Murkowski’s two decades as Senator and one term as governor, as well as her own eight years in the Senate. Miller defeated Murkowski in a Republican primary over the summer, thanks in part to the money and support of tea partiers.
Some of the iterations challenged by Miller’s campaign but were approved included “Merkowski,” “Murkowsky” and “Murcowski,” according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The Miller campaign is still hoping to have those and other misspelled ballots thrown out in court, arguing in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the Division of Elections’ use of discretion on awarding votes violates state law.
But Miller could lose even if his court challenge is successful, as 89 percent of the write-in votes counted Wednesday were not challenged. If that pace continues for the remaining 73,776 write-in votes, Murkowski would win by more than 500 votes.
Nearly one-fifth of the 92,979 total write-in votes were counted Wednesday. Miller leads with 82,180 votes (35 percent), while Democrat Scott McAdams is assured of losing after receiving just 23 percent of the vote. He conceded last week.
Others to receive write-in votes included Miller (2) and McAdams (1), as well as several others who filed as write-in candidates. They include Sid Hill with 8 votes, Eileen M. Ransom and Lisa M. Lackey with 2 votes each, and a handful of others with 1 vote.
Miller attempted to halt the write-in vote count until his challenge over misspelled names is heard, but a federal judge ruled Wednesday that Miller failed to demonstrate the potential for irreparable harm if the state Division of Elections continues its count.
The write-in vote count is expected to take up to five days to conclude.
The race has rankled tea partiers and establishment Republicans alike. Murkowski stepped down from her leadership post after losing the primary, but the Senate GOP caucus decided to let her keep her ranking member position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn continues to say the committee is fully supporting Miller’s candidacy, even though a Republican will win the seat no matter who ends up on top. That puts Cornyn in an increasingly difficult position, as he juggles loyalties between conservative activists that support Miller, the party’s nominee, and Murkowski, a well-liked Republican colleague who appears to be coming back for another six years.
Cornyn sent a fundraising solicitation for Miller on Friday, and according to the Associated Press, Miller said the NRSC has committed $20,000 for his legal costs. Murkowski was in Washington this week to raise money for a fund that would pay for lawyers and other expenses associated with the counting process.
Murkowski campaign spokesman Kevin Sweeney questioned the NRSC’s decision to back Miller’s post-election efforts, since both candidates are Republicans.