Senator Lisa Murkowski wins Alaska write-in campaign

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski Wednesday became the first U.S. senator in more than 50 years to win an election with a write-in campaign as she established an unassailable lead over conservative Tea Party movement favorite Joe Miller.

The result of the last undecided Senate race of the November 2 congressional elections does not alter the makeup of the chamber, where Republicans picked up six seats but the Democrats retained their majority.

Murkowski had a lead of about 10,000 votes with only 752 ballots left to be counted, a state election official said on Wednesday. According to the latest figures from the state’s division of elections, Murkowski has 100,868 votes to Miller’s 90,468.

“Against all odds, we as Alaskans together made history,” Murkowski told cheering supporters in a packed union hall.

Miller has not conceded the election and said he may seek a recount once all votes are in. His campaign would have to pay the $15,000 bill for a recount, unless it can show the difference in votes between him and Murkowski is 0.5 percent or less, in which case the state would pay.

A member of one of the state’s most powerful political families and a senator since 2002, Murkowski had to campaign to get voters to write her name on the ballot after Miller, backed by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, defeated her in Alaska’s Republican primary in August.

The last senator to win a write-in campaign -- where voters write in the name of a chosen candidate instead of selecting a printed name on the ballot -- was then-Democrat Strom Thurmond in South Carolina in 1954.

The Miller campaign is challenging thousands of Murkowski’s write-in votes, on grounds of misspelling or procedural errors. Even subtracting those challenged votes, Murkowski still has 92,715 votes, a solid lead over Miller, with only 752 ballots left to be counted. Wednesday is the deadline for overseas absentee ballots to count, but few are expected.

The Democratic candidate, Scott McAdams, was a distant third with 59,817 votes at the latest count.

Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Bill Rigby; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney