- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

JUNEAU, Alaska | Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday became the first Senate candidate in more than 50 years to win a write-in campaign, emerging victorious over her “tea party” rival after a week-long count of hand-written votes.

The victory completes a remarkable comeback for the Republican after her humiliating loss in the GOP primary to Joe Miller.

Her victory became clear when Alaska election officials confirmed they had only about 700 votes left to count, putting Mrs. Murkowski in safe territory to win re-election. The incumbent was flying from Washington back to Alaska on Wednesday to make an “exciting announcement,” proclaiming in e-mail to supporters that the campaign “made history.”

Mrs. Murkowski has a lead of 10,400 votes, a total that includes 8,153 ballots in which Miller observers challenged over things like misspellings, extra words or legibility issues.

Mr. Miller told Fox News that he is not conceding the race, and will decide at the end of the week whether the campaign will request a recount. Mr. Miller has maintained he will stop fighting if the math doesn’t work in his favor.

Mr. Miller’s loss is a major rebuke of Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate who backed Mr. Miller and has long had a tense relationship with the Murkowski family. Mr. Miller’s defeat means Mrs. Palin couldn’t deliver in her home state for a candidate she roundly endorsed.

The write-in bid was an effort Mrs. Murkowski almost didn’t undertake after her stunning loss in the August primary to Mr. Miller. She went back and forth on whether to run but ultimately decided to wage a write-in campaign, saying she had been encouraged by Alaskans who wanted a reasonable alternative between the conservative Mr. Miller and the little-known Democratic nominee.

Mrs. Murkowski will return to Washington in an odd position in the Republican Party. The National Republican Senatorial Committee threw its support and cash behind Mr. Miller, opting to back the candidate who received the GOP nomination. And she didn’t have many friends within the tea party movement - with many of those voters seeing her as too liberal - thus putting her at odds with that faction of the party as well.

Though she plans to caucus with Republicans, she said she won’t be beholden to any special interests or party - an initial sign that she may not try to reclaim her leadership post within the GOP conference. She voluntarily resigned it in deciding to make her outsider run.

Mrs. Murkowski said she will approach issues as they come to her, and vowed to do what’s best for Alaskans. She opposed a Republican-supported moratorium on earmark requests, a hot issue on Capitol Hill after the tea party surge in the midterm elections. She said a ban on earmarks won’t do much to reduce federal spending and instead would leave bureaucrats to decide spending priorities.

Her victory followed the tedious week-long process of ballot counters and observers scrutinizing the handwriting of thousands of ballots.

It was a process unlike any Alaska had seen, with the rules for conducting the election written as the race went on. That provided the crux of Mr. Miller’s federal complaint - that the determination of votes was subjective and not strictly in line with election law calling for ballots to have the ovals filled in and either the candidate’s last name or name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy written.

Observers for Mr. Miller, seeking to hold the state to that standard, objected to thousands of ballots, including ones with a cursive letter or two, slight misspellings or mangled lettering and some reading “Lisa Murkowski Republican” or “Murkowski, Lisa.”

Mrs. Murkowski, 53, was appointed to the Senate seat long held by her father when he became governor in 2002; she won the seat in her own right two years later, in a narrow win over Democrat Tony Knowles, and her father was ousted in the 2006 gubernatorial primary by Mrs. Palin, contributing to the icy relationship between the two families.