ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Alaska Senate race was headed for another nailbiter in the rematch between write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski and tea party favorite Joe Miller as supporters from both sides prepared Wednesday for a potentially prolonged ballot count.
Write-in ballots held the lead in the hotly contested three-person race late Tuesday, a potentially good sign for Murkowski’s long-shot effort to keep her job.
“They said it couldn’t be done,” she told supporters Tuesday night. “We said if it can be done anywhere, it can be done in Alaska, and let’s prove the rest of the country wrong. And we’re doing that tonight.”
No U.S. Senate candidate has won as a write-in since Strom Thurmond did it in 1954. But with nearly 99 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday, write-ins had 41 percent of the vote.
Miller, who beat Murkowski for the GOP nomination in August by just 2,006 votes, received 34 percent. He sent supporters home early from his campaign’s Tuesday evening party, then returned to his hotel with his family.
Democrat Scott McAdams had about 24 percent and all but conceded Tuesday evening.
The write-in count only speaks to total ballots cast for write-ins – not to names written on them. But a confident Murkowski waved one of her campaign wristbands over her head as she spoke Tuesday night.
The wristbands, with the senator’s name printed on the side, were a trademark of her campaign in recent weeks as supporters used them and other visual reminders to inform people on how to write her name on a ballot.
However, Miller said lawyers and other supporters were ready to head to Alaska for the ballot count. His campaign manager, Robert Campbell, suggested a battle loomed over the write-ins.
“As cliched as it is, it’s not over till it’s over,” Campbell said.
The focus now turns to how and when the write-in ballots are counted. Murkowski said her campaign was prepared to make sure that every vote was recorded, and that no Alaskan was disenfranchised.
Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees elections in Alaska, said that if write-in ballots finished ahead of the other candidates, he would ask the Division of Elections to begin determining who received write-in votes within the next few days.
Earlier, the division said it likely wouldn’t begin counting names on write-ins until about Nov. 18.
Officials would need to sort through absentee ballots to make that determination, and the first batch of absentee votes isn’t expected to be counted until next Tuesday.
But Campbell told The Associated Press Tuesday night that he didn’t want to keep candidates and citizens in the dark for the next two weeks.
“The whole point is, we want to do the right thing and we want to do it as fast as we can,” he said.
Division Director Gail Fenumiai said she’d prefer to do the write-in count at one time, not piecemeal. But she said a decision on what approach to take would probably be made in the next few days.
AP Photographer Ben Margot in Anchorage contributed to this report.