Alaska Senate race goes down to the wire – Murkowski narrowly trails Miller

Shocking development:

A decorated Gulf War veteran was holding a narrow lead over Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska Republican Senate primary, as ballots continued to be counted Wednesday in what could shape up to be a stunning political upset.

Polls taken before primary day had shown Murkowski, a two-term senator from an Alaska political dynasty, leading handily against the first-time candidate. But challenger Joe Miller insisted all along that the state’s polling was unreliable — as of Wednesday morning, Miller held a 2,000-vote lead.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting, he had 51 percent and Murkowski had 49 percent. The number of uncounted absentee ballots, though, exceeded the number of votes separating the candidates.

The Alaska race marked the second surprise from a Tea Party-backed candidate in Tuesday’s elections. Health care executive Rick Scott earlier defeated Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum for that state’s GOP gubernatorial nomination after polls also showed McCollum pulling away from Scott.

Miller had the added help of an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a history with the Murkowski family. Palin defeated Murkowski’s father Frank in the 2006 gubernatorial primary. Though there was speculation over whether she might challenge Murkowski for her seat, Palin instead endorsed Miller after leaving the governor’s office.

Murkowski has proudly touted her seniority after eight years in office, and said her roles on the appropriations and energy committees put her in a strong position to ensure Alaskans’ voices are heard. She denounced Miller for making what she considered deceptive statements about her votes and statements.

But Miller, standing behind his words, sought to cast Murkowski as being too liberal and part of the problem in an out-of-control Washington.

Miller told reporters he’s trying to be realistic about the early results showing him slightly in the lead. He spoke to reporters at election central headquarters in Anchorage, where his supporters chanted “Miller Time!” and “Go Joe Go!” Miller joked on Twitter, “What’s the moose hunting like in the Beltway?”

Murkowski spokesman Steve Wackowski said the campaign remained upbeat about its chances, especially with votes in rural Alaska still coming in. More than 16,000 absentee ballots were mailed, and the state Division of Elections said it had received about 7,600 absentee-type ballots by Monday. They won’t be counted until Aug. 31.

Would love to see Palin via Miller go 2-0 versus the big government Murkowski family. We’ll find out if she and Miller are successful on that front at the end of the month with the counting of absentee ballots. Make sure to bookmark the Alaska Daily News website for all the latest information.

And, as they say, stay tuned …

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