WASHINGTON — She promised to make history, and on Wednesday afternoon, it appeared that Sen. Lisa Murkowski had done just that.
Murkowski, who launched a high-profile write-in bid to represent Alaska in the U.S. Senate after losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller in August, appears to be the first write-in candidate to go to the Senate since Strom Thurmond's 1954 victory.
The Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon officially called the race for Murkowski, although since Nov. 2 it has been relatively clear that the write-in candidate received more votes than both Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams. The outcome became a foregone conclusion Wednesday as election officials neared completion of a hand count of more than 100,000 write-in ballots.
Murkowski traveled to Alaska from Washington on Wednesday afternoon to claim victory. However, the race had not been certified, and it was unclear how the Miller campaign would proceed.
Miller, whose tea party-backed candidacy was supported by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, had no immediate response.
Regardless, Murkowski's margin over Miller appears to make irrelevant his lawsuit asking the courts to toss out misspelled votes.
There aren't enough misspelled votes identified for Miller to win, and even subtracting all the votes counted for Murkowski but challenged by the Miller campaign, Murkowski would still be ahead by several thousand votes.
Tuesday night, the Miller campaign called Alaska's computerized voting system "suspect," and spokesman Randy DeSoto said he wants the Division of Elections to recount the entire Senate race by hand.
If there is a recount, the Miller campaign would have to pay for it. The state pays for recounts only if a candidate is within 0.5 percent of winning.
Teams of ballot counters went through more than 100,000 write-in ballots over the past week in Juneau to see what voters had written. Observers from both campaigns watched.
Murkowski ended up with 92,715 votes that were unchallenged by the Miller campaign. That's still 2,247 votes more than the 90,468 Miller got.
Murkowski's win over Miller also represents, on a small scale, the discord within the Republican Party as it struggles to absorb the insurgent tea party movement that helped flip the House of Representatives to the GOP.