U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski's unusual write-in bid to hold on to her Alaska Senate seat appeared to be gaining steam in early returns Tuesday, but analysts warned the state could be in for a long, close ballot count whose official outcome may remain unknown for weeks.
With just early-voted ballots and a few precincts tallied, write-in votes — most of them presumably cast for Murkowski — were leading with 39.44%. Tea Party Express-backed Republican Joe Miller was trailing with 34.15%, while Democrat Scott McAdams had 25.32%.
Though the closely fought race was still up for grabs, the early lead in write-in ballots suggested Murkowski had a chance of pulling off the first successful write-in campaign for the Senate since 1954.
Miller, a Fairbanks attorney, unexpectedly snatched the Republican primary in August from Murkowski, a moderate who was appointed to the seat in 2002 by her father, former Gov. Frank Murkowski.
If the race remains close, the outcome could remain unknown until as long as Nov. 18. Counting the bulk of about 42,000 absentee ballots won't begin until Nov. 9, and individual scrutiny of write-in ballots would commence after those are counted, said Gail Fenumiai, head of the state Division of Elections.