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Nation's last Senate battle enters a new arena

By Shannon Travis, CNN Political Producer
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The two sides take their legal challenge to a state court on Wednesday
  • The Miller camp says it is willing to fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Miller trails Murkowski by a 10,000-plus vote margin
  • Murkowski has already claimed victory

Washington (CNN) -- When will the nation's last, nasty Senate battle end? Based on one side's determination, there may actually be no end in sight.

Over one month after Election Day, the bitter back-and-forth between Republicans Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent senator, and opponent Joe Miller enters a new arena on Wednesday: a state court.

A judge will hear arguments in the legal challenge to the senate race. Referring to that process, Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto told CNN, "I imagine we'll have a decision here within the next few days."

But if that decision does not swing towards the Miller campaign, DeSoto said it will definitely appeal it to the Alaska Supreme Court. If they lose there, DeSoto tells CNN they are prepared to take their fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Yes, it could go that far," DeSoto said.

Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate in the general election after losing her party's primary to Miller.

Miller's lawyers will argue a few key points Wednesday. Among them: that any ballots credited for Murkowski that did not spell her name precisely should be thrown out.

The lawyers will argue that the Alaska Division of Elections' evaluation of a "voter's intent" is against state law.

Miller currently trails Murkowski by a 10,000-plus vote margin, according to unofficial results from the Division of Elections. A federal court is not allowing that result to be certified until the state court rules.

But even if all the challenged ballots are thrown out - an unlikely scenario to many observers - Miller would still trail the senator by just over 2,100 votes.

Given the numbers, Murkowski claimed victory on November 17.

But Miller's team, also aware of the numbers, is divining ways the math might ultimately work in its favor.

In addition to fighting to throw out challenged ballots, the candidate's lawyers will also fight for a hand recount of all ballots.

According to DeSoto, doing that could produce some votes for Miller that were not picked up in the original machine count.

The Miller ballots "need to be reviewed," DeSoto said.

Also in a surprise admission, DeSoto said his team's own observers, who watched over the count of write-in votes in early November, should have challenged even more than the 8,100-plus challenged Murkowski ballots.

Since observer teams had to be assembled quickly, DeSoto said, "It caused us to not have our team trained in what exactly to expect or what to be looking for."

Murkowski's side also hopes for a speedy decision at the state court.

"Our main role is trying to get this done as quickly as possible," Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney told CNN. He hopes the judge will decide on Wednesday or perhaps the next day.

And Sweeney said the campaign is confident the judge will rule that counting misspelled or non-perfect ballots for Murkowski is lawful.

The Murkowski campaign was allowed to intervene in the case that was originally to be argued between the Miller campaign and the State of Alaska.

Sweeney is also questioning Miller's legal moves.

"You have to figure, what are his motives here?" Sweeney said.

He pondered if Miller knows he will lose, but simply wants to reduce the amount of the loss.

"He loses the election even if he wins all of his (legal) challenges," Sweeney said.

 
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