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Murkowski’s Fate Hinges on Absentee Ballots

Updated: 8:39 a.m.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski is in danger of becoming the seventh Member of Congress to lose a primary this year, as she trails Republican challenger Joe Miller in Tuesday’s contest. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Miller leads 51 percent to 49 percent, with just fewer than 2,000 votes separating them.

The final result will not be known for at least a week, however, with as many as 16,000 absentee ballots waiting to be counted, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The first ballot count will take place Aug. 31, followed by subsequent counts for late-arriving ballots on Sept. 3 and Sept. 8.

“We knew the race was going to be tight. The rural areas have yet to come in and we know Sen. Murkowski is going to be very strong in the rural areas,” Murkowski spokesman Steve Wackowski said, according to the Daily News.

Following Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Murkowski would be the third Senator this cycle to lose a primary, which is the highest total since four Senators lost their primaries in 1980.

Most political observers were not expecting Miller to mount such a serious challenge to Murkowski, who holds a 10-to-1 cash advantage. Miller had the backing of local and national tea party organizations, while Murkowski ran on experience, seniority and as a continuation of the legacy left behind by the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Plus, despite a dearth of polling on the race, the most recent primary poll showed Murkowski with at least a 30-point lead. However, Miller had a couple of powerful GOP endorsements in his pocket, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who loaned their voices for robocalls that flooded the state.

Murkowski took a shot last night at Palin’s decision to step into the race.

“I think she’s out for her own self-interest. I don’t think she’s out for Alaska’s interest,” Murkowski said from her campaign headquarters, according to the Daily News.

Palin and Murkowski have some history, as it was Palin who knocked Murkowski’s father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, from office in the 2006 gubernatorial primary. Two years later, Palin was on the presidential ticket. Murkowski was first appointed to office by her father in 2002 to fill the remaining two years of the Senate term he left behind for the governorship. Murkowski had just completed four years in the state Legislature and days earlier had been defeated by a more conservative legislator in her bid for Speaker.

Two years later she squeaked out a victory to a full term against Democrat Tony Knowles, the former governor whom her father succeeded.

Another wrinkle in Tuesday’s race was a ballot measure on the requirement of parental notification for abortions received by a minor. The measure passed by 56 percent to 44 percent. Murkowski has been hammered by conservatives since she was in the state Legislature for voting against pro-life bills, and Miller made sure voters knew about this.

The winner of the Murkowski-Miller duel will face Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, the Democratic nominee who has less than $5,000 in the bank, according to the most recent fundraising report available.

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