With prospects of a third-party challenge dimming, Lisa Murkowski conceded the razor-close GOP Senate primary race. Rival Joe Miller talks to Shushannah Walshe.
The Daily Beast has confirmed exclusively that Sen. Lisa Murkowski will concede the Alaska senate race to Joe Miller.
Fifteen minutes before a press conference at Murkowski's Anchorage headquarters, a staffer told the Daily Beast, "She is calling her family now. It looks like she will come out and concede. That's what we recommended to her."
More than 23,000 absentee and questioned ballots were being counted Tuesday in the Alaska Senate primary drama. This comes a day after the possibility of a potential third-party run by Lisa Murkowski began to dwindle.
Murkowski was trailing insurgent GOP rival Joe Miller by 1,668 votes. Thousands of ballots, including both absentee and questioned ballots—votes cast in a different district than the person resides—have been verified in the days since the election and those will be counted Tuesday. According to Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai, officials will start releasing numbers by about 11 a.m. local time. She said they are not clear how they will release the numbers after that initial output, but in past elections numbers are released district by district. Murkowski campaign spokesman Steve Wackowski said that by Tuesday evening they will have a good idea if a Murkowski win is possible, but it won’t be definite.
When asked if he would call on Murkowski to concede, Miller said: “I think that’s her choice.”
“The great majority of votes will be tabulated, but they are still counting until the 8th, so we won’t be able to call it until then,” Wackowski said. “But, we’ll have an indicator.”
When asked if they will consider a recount if it remains close, Wackowski answered: “We are not there yet, but it’s a tool in our tool box. It’s a consideration if it’s close.”
All ballots need to have been postmarked by August 24th, Election Day. But ballots coming from in-state and domestically have a deadline of September 3rd to be received and September 8th for overseas and military votes.
Ahead of the count, Joe Miller greeted supporters at an open house at his Anchorage headquarters. Walking into chants of “Joe, Joe, Joe!” he said he was confident they would remain ahead of Murkowski, specifically citing those military ballots.
“At Elmendorf [Air Force Base, I received] almost 90 percent [of the vote], 75 percent at Ft. Rich and that’s the day of the vote,” Miller said in an interview. “And we know a significant percentage of absentee votes came from out-of-state active-duty members, so we think that’s going to reflect a similar percentage there. In addition to that, the questioned ballots you have more committed voters that are voting outside of precinct and so we think that runs in our favor and will at least reflect the spread that we saw on Election Day and maybe even greater. We are convinced that we are going to look pretty good in that, but again the ultimate outcome depends on the count.”
When asked if he would call on Murkowski to concede Tuesday if he remains ahead, he said that has to be her decision and would look for her support in the lead up to November.
“I think that’s her choice. Until it’s certified, it’s not done and I wish her the best and I hope we can work together and toward the victory in the general election,” Miller said.
Miller came to his headquarters after appearing on Fox News’ On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, which he shot from the studio at Sarah Palin’s house. Palin endorsed Miller and recorded robo-calls for him in the days leading up to the primary. When asked if Palin gave him any encouragement ahead of Tuesday’s ballot counting he answered, “No, I have not gotten advice from Gov. Palin.”
The only remaining legal option for Murkowski if she doesn’t make up the ballot deficit is waging a write-in campaign. Although this would be very difficult and she would not be supported by the National Republican Senatorial Committee financially, she does have universal name recognition in the state, making it a possible option. An adviser with the Murkowski camp said they are not considering that yet and are instead focused on the high number of ballots.
In a press release Monday, Murkowski said, "While I'm aware that Alaskans concerned about the future of our state are talking about a possible third-party candidacy, this talk is not coming from my campaign." However, The Daily Beast confirmed last week that the Murkowski campaign was indeed looking into the option of mounting a third-party candidacy, but her only option disappeared Monday when the Libertarian Party said they would no longer consider replacing their Senate candidate with Murkowski. Last week, Executive Director Scott Kohlaas said they were open to the idea, but that was before a contentious emergency meeting with the executive board on Sunday night, where they voted unanimously not to keep that option open for Murkowski.
“I want to make it clear that Lisa is a nice lady and no one from the Murkowski campaign ever came to us officially and if she ever wanted to sit down and chat that would be great, but because of her record and the fundamental difference in philosophy—things like the economy and the war—no matter what happens, we will not give our nomination or our ballot line in November to Lisa Murkowski,” Kohlaas said.
Kohlaas is stressing that the Murkowski campaign did not have any official interaction with them, but acknowledged they were feeling torn by calls from supporters from both the Miller and Murkowski camps, “Loose conversations among many people, lots of people. I was walking a razor’s edge all week between the two possibilities or camps. We’re talking to just about everybody.”
And in another sign she’s not backing down, Murkowski sent an e mail to supporters Monday evening hitting Miller.
“We are confident that absentee votes will trend in our favor. From the start of this campaign, we have put forth our positive message, illustrating my work on behalf of all Alaskans,” the email read in part. “I believe that this message resonated with voters, long before Mr. Miller and his outside political allies swarmed Alaskan voters with a negative message that grossly misrepresented my record and character.”
If Murkowski is able to beat Miller in the absentee ballots, Kohlaas said Miller does have support in the Libertarian Party, but they did not officially discuss whether the line would be open to him.
Despite some anger at him for even floating the idea of having Murkowski join their line, Kohlaas said the Libertarian Party enjoyed being in the spotlight, “We are loving it. It’s a chance to talk about Libertarian principles and clarify. Oh yeah, it’s good stuff.”
Shushannah Walshe is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.