When Alaska officials stopped counting ballots at 12:30 a.m. Anchorage time (4:30 a.m ET), 77% of the state’s precincts had reported, and Republican primary challenger Joe Miller led by nearly 3,000 votes over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
The New York Times, Roll Call and Anchorage Daily News reported this result cautiously — Murkowski was “imperiled” and “battling for her political life,” etc. — but with Miller at nearly 52% of the vote, it appears evident that the challenger has won an upset.
Shortly before 4 a.m., Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto told me by phone he was “cautiously optimistic,” and a few minutes later, campaign scheduler Harmony Shields said that the result would, at least officially, be “inconclusive” pending completion of the vote-count later today. However, other sources close to the campaign said privately they were confident of victory.
The come-from-behind triumph of Miller — whom I profiled for the American Spectator in early July — would be the second time that Sarah Palin had dealt a defeat to the Murkowskis. She upset the senator’s father, Frank, to win the governorship in 2006, and her endorsement was a key factor in helping Miller, a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, mount a strong surge in the final two months of the primary campaign.
UPDATE: More votes have been tabulated, and with 84% of precincts reporting, the results are:
MILLER … … . 45,188 (51.45%)
MURKOWSKI … 42,633 (48.55%)
So the gap has shrunk to 2,555 votes and, once all the precincts have reported, there are still more than 7,000 absentee ballots to be counted, so it may be a while before the result becomes official. Nevertheless, the Miller team has already begun scheduling events for the candidate to campaign as the GOP nominee.
UPDATE II: David Weigel is not the only one to suggest that an amendment on Tuesday’s ballot — requiring parental notification before a minor can get an abortion — helped boost pro-life Miller against Murkowski. The measure passed with 55% of the vote. Charmaine Yoest of American United for Life notes that Alaska is the 37th state to enact such a measure.
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