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Alaska Sen. Murkowski claims victory in re-election bid

By Shannon Travis, CNN Political Producer
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Murkowski: 'We made history'
  • Murkowski thanks Alaskans for helping make history
  • She ran as write-in candidate after losing primary to Joe Miller
  • Miller is backed by Tea Party Express

Washington (CNN) -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska Wednesday declared victory over fellow Republican Joe Miller in the nation's last Senate race, saying the result of her write-in candidacy was a "miracle."

"Against all odds, we as Alaskans together made history," Murkowski told cheering supporters in Anchorage.

If she prevails in a potential challenge, Murkowski would become the second person to ever win a write-in bid for the U.S. Senate.

Murkowski's statement was the climax in the state's bitter and prolonged Senate battle. It was essentially a triumphant declaration of beating back a three-pronged attack: from Miller, from the Tea Party Express, and from Sarah Palin.

"We've said all along, we'll wait for the votes to be counted," Murkowski Campaign Manager Kevin Sweeney told CNN.

"By any standard, this was a clear victory. This was a whuppin'," Sweeney added.

Currently, Alaska's Division of Elections is counting 100,868 votes for Murkowski versus 90,448 for Miller. By that count, Murkowski leads by 10,420.

However, 8,153 of Murkowski's votes have been contested by the Miller campaign. If, as Miller's side would like, all of those contested votes are thrown out -- an almost impossible scenario to many election and legal observers -- Murkowski would still win the race with the uncontested votes alone.

"You can see that the numbers just won't add up," Sweeney told CNN, referring to Miller's hopes of pulling out a win despite the rising tide against him.

The Associated Press has called the race for Murkowski. If the outcome stands in the face of legal challenges, despite a count of any outstanding ballots or a potential recount from Miller, it would be only the second time a person won a write-in campaign for the Senate. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina won a write-in campaign in 1954.

At this point, Miller is conceding nothing.

In an interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News, Miller said he is "less cautiously optimistic" given the vote tallies. But Miller was emphatic about ensuring the integrity of the vote-counting process, asserting that the difference was "less than 1 percent."

Murkowski claims 'miracle' win

He said he may request a recount, that he wants to ensure that some military ballots were mailed out, and that the difference between his votes and Murkowski's may shift if a "consistent standard" for evaluating the write-in ballots is applied.

Evaluating the write-in ballots has been controversial. As Alaska's Division of Elections tallied them, some ballots that contained misspellings or variations of "Lisa Murkowski" have been credited as votes for her.

That issue of evaluating a "voter's intent" has infuriated the Miller campaign, prompting it to launch a federal lawsuit in hopes of annulling the count of misspelled or incongruous ballots. Miller's campaign blasted the Division of Elections' standards as "extraordinarily ambiguous."

A Miller loss would be a huge slap to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express. Palin endorsed Miller over Murkowski for the state's GOP Senate primary, and the national Tea Party group followed suit. Murkowski lost the primary in August -- and conceded the race. Shortly after, Murkowski launched a write-in bid to retain her seat.

Murkowski was first appointed to her post by her father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, in 2002. Palin defeated him in the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary.

CNN's Kristi Kreck contributed to this report.