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Alaska Senate Race Might Not End for Weeks

Democratic Mayor Scott McAdams and Republicans Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller
CBS/AP
Democratic Mayor Scott McAdams and Republicans Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller
CBS/AP

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Election Day in Anchorage began with a heavy snowfall that left the streets wet and slushy, but by noon the sun was shining. Beyond the city, the snow covered mountains stood in the sun as emblems of the state's wild and untamed nature.

When it comes to "wild," there are few political races that have been wilder than the battle for Alaska's Senate seat. It's a three-way race with polls suggesting any one of the three candidates could win.

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The Republican, Joe Miller, is a Tea Party favorite. Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski is running as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to Miller. The Democrat in the race, Mayor Scott McAdams, was once considered a long shot, but if Murkowski and Miller split the Republican vote, McAdams could just pull off a victory.

No matter who wins the outcome will have special, even historic, significance. If Miller comes out on top, it will be a victory for the Tea Party and for one of Miller's big supporters, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. At a combination rally and country music concert Monday night, Miller was surrounded by supporters shouting "Vote for Joe." He said Alaska has to get the federal government out of the way and that the Last Frontier should use the state's natural resources to create jobs.

If Murkowski wins, it will be the first time since 1954 that a write-in candidate has won a seat in the Senate. Murkowski's name is well known in the state. Her father served as both senator and governor, and she has been senator for eight years.

When I met Murkowski at her Anchorage headquarters Monday night, she pointed out all the ways her campaign is trying to make sure voters know how to spell her last name, including rubber bracelets with "MURKOWSKI" spelled out in big gold letters.

"We are working with Alaskans to make sure that spelling is not going to be an issue," Murkowski said.

The issue for many potential McAdams voters is whether he has a real chance to win. Democrats worry that some who might vote for McAdams could instead make a strategic decision to vote for Murkowski, figuring she has a better chance to defeat Tea Party favorite Miller.

But McAdams is counting on what he calls the "family feud" in the Republican Party to send independent voters his way. He pointed out that while Alaska elects lots of Republicans, the state has more registered independents than Republicans or Democrats. If somehow McAdams does pull off a win, it will be a big deal for Democrats on this election night, taking a seat away from the Republicans.

Trouble is voters may not know for weeks who won the seat. If the vote is close, all the write-in ballots will have to be hand counted. That could take days, but election officials say counting the write-ins may not actually start for two weeks in order to give time to collect absentee ballots mailed in from across the state.

There could be a lot more snow on the ground here before Alaska has a senator.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.