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Fight drags on in Alaska

Joe Miller is battling to the last recounted vote for a Senate seat.

Joe Miller is waging a court fight to throw out write-in votes for Lisa Murkowski. A hand count of ballots showed Murkowski ahead by 10,328 votes.
Joe Miller is waging a court fight to throw out write-in votes for Lisa Murkowski. A hand count of ballots showed Murkowski ahead by 10,328 votes.Read moreJOHN WAGNER / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

JUNEAU, Alaska - Joe Miller is fighting as though Alaska's Senate election has yet to occur.

He has maintained a presence on TV, conservative radio, and the Internet, casting himself as a righteous reformer in the face of an out-of-control establishment. He is still raising money and speaking out against his opponent.

Miller has mounted a vigorous postelection campaign as his lawyers wage a last-ditch legal challenge to throw out write-in ballots for the incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, in their hard-fought race.

A hand count of ballots showed Murkowski ahead by 10,328 votes - 2,169 when excluding votes challenged by Miller's campaign. Miller wants a judge to set a standard of review for the ballots and a possible recount.

While he hopes this could swing the tally in his favor, Miller insists it's less about winning or losing now and more about principle, ensuring that the election is fair. He calls it a fight "not for Joe Miller but for Alaska."

The legal challenge has left the Senate seat in limbo a month before the winner is scheduled to be sworn in.

If the fight drags on, Alaska could be left with only one senator until the dispute is resolved, making the next Senate a 99-member body as it returns to business in January. Murkowski could also lose her leadership positions if the new Senate convenes without her, her attorneys warn.

People who know Miller describe the Ivy League-educated lawyer and Army veteran as driven, emotional, and focused on the mission at hand.

He knows what's at stake in fighting on, including the risk of looking like a sore loser and hurting his chances of running for office again, perhaps against Sen. Mark Begich (D., Alaska) in 2014. He says he doesn't care.

"My only call is to be faithful to what I believe is the right thing to do," he said, "and I'll trust God for the ultimate outcome."

Miller is relentless despite calls from his own party to concede. Murkowski has already declared herself the victor. Some of Miller's high-profile supporters have either gone silent or moved on and urged him to do the same.

Miller won the GOP nomination in the August primary with the backing of former Gov. Sarah Palin and the tea party. Murkowski responded by apparently becoming the first candidate to win a write-in U.S. Senate campaign in 50 years.

Miller says the state's running of the election favored Murkowski. State law calls for write-in ballots to have the candidate's last name or name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy written next to a filled-in ballot oval. Miller says that standard should have been adhered to strictly.

The state used discretion in determining voter intent, counting ballots with misspellings toward Murkowski's tally - a practice it has defended as in line with case law.

A federal judge, calling both interpretations plausible, blocked certification of the race pending resolution of Miller's complaint. The judge sent the matter to state court and a hearing is set for Wednesday.

That decision buoyed Miller supporters, who were deflated after the count of write-in votes went for Murkowski.

The glimmer of hope is reflected in a banner on the website for the tea party-style Conservative Patriots Group: "We are keeping our fingers crossed for Joe Miller."

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund PAC has reported raising $150,000 for Miller's legal bills, and a spokesman said DeMint remains behind Miller "100 percent."

"You can say it's a long shot, but we're still in the fight," said Bill Peck of Maryland, a ballot observer for Miller.

The state GOP says otherwise. Chairman Randy Ruedrich, who publicly supported Miller after his primary triumph, has called on him to "respect the will of the voters" and concede.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee, once vocal backers of Miller, have fallen silent since the last votes were tallied in mid-November.

"The election is over; the state should certify it as soon as it's legally allowed to do so, and we should move on to other elections," state GOP spokesman Casey Reynolds said.