Absentee Ballots To Decide Alaska's Sen. Primary

With all precincts reporting results from Tuesday's voting, GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski trails her lesser-known rival Joe Miller by 1,668 votes. But thousands of absentee ballots have yet to be counted.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

We're still sorting through the results and the meaning of Tuesday's primary elections across the country. Those races include the still undecided vote in Alaska for the Republican Senate nomination.

NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin, joins me now to review what happened and talk about what it may mean for November.

Welcome, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: What is the latest from Alaska?

RUDIN: Well, Lisa Murkowski was supposed to cruise to re-nomination. Her opponant, Joe Miller, he's a Gulf War veteran, a Fairbanks attorney. He's backed by the Tea Party, backed by Sarah Palin. Lisa Murkowski was supposed to have no trouble defeating Joe Miller, but as of right now, Miller has a 1,668 vote lead. Now yesterday, at a press conference, Lisa Murkowski says, it ain't over yet, folks. And that's true. There are 16,000 absentee ballots and provisional ballots that have not been counted yet.

We're not going to know, for at least a week, who won that primary between Murkowski and Miller. But the fact that we don't know it at this point, is pretty shocking stuff.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think is a lesson Republicans ought to take away from this?

RUDIN: Well, take a look at what John McCain did in Arizona. John McCain was also challenged by the conservatives, by the right wing. His views on taxes and immigration never pleased conservatives in his party. But he knew from the beginning that he was in big trouble, and he was very aggressive. He moved further to the right on issues like immigration. He spent $20 million against J.D. Hayworth and took the fight to him. Lisa Murkowski did, basically, what Ted Stevens used to do here's the largesse we're getting from Washington, I've done this great job and I'm going to continue to do it. That's not what Tea Party folks want to hear. That's not what conservative Republicans want to hear. And Murkowski didn't learn she was in trouble until it was too late.

WERTHEIMER: So, another state, Florida, going south, Republicans also picked a candidate who billed himself as a conservative outsider, as the gubernatorial nominee.

RUDIN: Right, that's Rick Scott, also backed by the Tea Party. The Republican establishment was behind Bill McCollum, he's the state attorney general, former congressman - he was supposed to win this. But Rick Scott spent a lot of money. He's a multi-millionaire. Now, the problem for the Republicans, there, is one: he's won the nomination, and yet, he has some baggage. Years ago, when Rick Scott was the CEO of a hospital chain, the hospital chain paid $1.7 billion in fines for Medicare fraud. Republicans are terrified and Democrats are hopeful about what's going on in Florida, that the Republicans might lose the governorship.

WERTHEIMER: Now, why is this governorship such a crucial one in this particular year?

RUDIN: This is the decennial process of redistricting. Every 10 years, the state legislatures of every state redraws the congressional lines. And so, whoever controls the game if, for example, in Florida if the Republicans, they control the state legislature, if they have the governorship, they can redraw the lines to, one: hurt the Democrats. Two: help the Republicans. And three: since Florida is going to gain a congressional seat in 2012, it will add two more electoral votes to Florida. So, that's why everybody's watching the governorships this year. Because whoever is governor in these key states, that are going to either gain or lose congressional seats, it's crucial to how it'll play out in 2012.

WERTHEIMER: They get to draw the lines. Ken, could you give us a snapshot of other governor's races that are important for redistricting?

RUDIN: Well, for example, in Texas. Texas is likely to pick up a congressional seat. Rick Perry, the longest serving governor in the history of Texas, is the Republican governor running for another term. It's a Republican legislature in Texas. If Rick Perry is re-elected, they could do, basically, what Tom DeLay did for most of the last decade, try to draw Democrats out of existence. On the other...

WERTHEIMER: Tom DeLay, the former majority leader in the House.

RUDIN: That's correct. On the opposite side, there's certain states that are going to lose seats. Like Michigan, for example, Democrats desperately want to hold that governorship. Jennifer Granholm is term limited. But the economy is so bad there, that the Republicans think they'll pick it up. If the Republicans win the governorship of Michigan, the Republican governor will play a key role in determining which seats are jeopardized for 2012.

You would think that the Democrats should win in California. Arnold Schwarzenegger is very unpopular there. But one: The Republican nominee Meg Whitman has spent over $100 million - Linda that's more than you make in two years at NPR...

WERTHEIMER: Ken, thanks.

RUDIN: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's political editor Ken Rudin. You can read his Political Junkie blog at NPR.org/junkie.

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