How they finished in the Alaska Senate race. (Buttons courtesy Libby Casey of Alaska Public Radio.)
It took two weeks and one day, but now the count is over. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been re-elected in Alaska.
It was no small feat. Defeated for renomination in the August Republican primary by Tea Party favorite Joe Miller, Murkowski decided to fight for her seat by waging a write-in campaign ... a tactic that has succeeded only once in Senate history, with Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.) in 1954.
There was also another problem Murkowski faced, aside from the history. It's one thing for people to tell pollsters that they planned to vote for her. But as a write-in candidate, her surname did not exactly make it easy for voters to cooperate. And Miller, the Republican nominee, argued that election officials could not be the arbiters of "voter intent." He pledged to challenge any write-in vote that failed to spell Murkowski correctly.
Murkowski's victory also comes against the combined forces of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Sarah Palin. More of that in a bit.
First, the write-in difficulty. Aware of the potential problem from the outset, the Murkowski campaign released this ad, helping voters to remember how to spell her name:
The opposition of the NRSC was more a formality than anything else. Miller won the Republican primary and thus was entitled to financial and logistical assistance from the committee. Murkowski was also dumped from her party leadership position after the primary, a title she presumably wants to reclaim. Unlike Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, who lost his Democratic primary for another term in 2006 and then ran as an independent — and stayed as an independent — Murkowski never left the Republican Party and intends to return to the Senate as a Republican.
The opposition by Palin is more interesting. There has long been a history of bad blood between the two families; Sarah Palin's path to the governorship started when she defeated Gov. Frank Murkowski in the 2006 Republican primary. After her stint as the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2008 — but before she unexpectedly resigned as governor — there were rumors that Palin would challenge Lisa Murkowski in this year's Senate primary. Instead, she backed Miller, an endorsement that led to widespread media attention and the involvement of the Tea Party. And one that helped him beat Murkowski in the August primary.
That bad blood is likely to continue. On Monday, during an interview with CBS News' Katie Couric, Murkowski acknowledged that she and Palin "don't really have much of a relationship." And when asked whether she would endorse Palin for president, Murkowski said no:
She would not be my choice for president. I just do not think she has those leadership qualities, that intellectual curiosity that allows for building good and great policies.
As it currently stands, Murkowski's lead over Miller is some 10,400 votes. (BTW, Democratic candidate Scott McAdams, who finished in third place, long ago conceded.) Even if all the contested or challenged Murkowski write-in votes were thrown out, she would still be ahead of Miller by some 2,000 votes or so.
And so she has been declared the winner.
She is on her way to Alaska right now and plans to make a speech, perhaps declare victory, at 10 pm. ET tonight. Miller has not yet said precisely what his next step is, but there are indications that he will ask for a recount.
(At this writing, Miller is on Neil Cavuto's business program on Fox, where he is suggesting he will want a hand recount of all the votes.)
Assuming she is sworn in for another term, Murkowski says she will continue to work across the aisle and continue to fight for home state projects if it helps Alaska and Alaskans.
It's not the message the Tea Party wants to hear. Nor is it one they expected to hear in the wake of what they say was the real message of Nov. 2: Enough with the wasteful government spending, enough of politics as usual. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the GOP minority leader and an old school appropriator, has noticeably changed course this week on earmarks. It's more than hearing footsteps from Jim DeMint, as some have suggested. McConnell has a different answer: It's what this year's election results were all about.
Just not in Alaska.