Upset in Alaska?

If the Republican primary for US Senate in Alaska became an extension of the battle between the Murkowskis and Sarah Palin, it looks as though the underdog may have won again.  Palin-endorsed challenger Joe Miller was not given much of a chance of victory against incumbent Lisa Murkowski before yesterday’s vote, but this morning Miller has a three-point lead with 77% of precincts reporting.  Murkowski can still pull out a win, but the mathematics are getting increasingly difficult:

In what could become one of the biggest political upsets of the year, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski trailed her tea party-backed opponent by a small margin Wednesday in Alaska’s GOP primary with thousands of votes yet to be counted.

Attorney Joe Miller, who also had the backing of former Gov. Sarah Palin, led Murkowski by less than four points with 77 percent of precincts reporting and thousands of absentee ballots not yet added to the tally from Tuesday’s vote.

If Murkowski loses, she would become the third senator this year to be ousted by a primary challenger. Her defeat would also be one of the most stunning losses in the state’s short 51-year history and a sure sign that Palin’s endorsement still carries weight with voters in Alaska.

Not a single public poll showed Miller within striking distance of Murkowski in the weeks before the primary, and she spent more than ten times as much as he spent. However, a ballot measure requiring parental notifications for teens seeking an abortion boosted Miller by driving tens of thousands of voters to the polls in an otherwise low-turnout primary.

When Shira Toeplitz notes that no poll predicted this outcome, it’s not an exaggeration.  Palin’s endorsement of Miller was seen as a long shot, as well as another volley in a years-long political feud between Palin and the Murkowskis.  Few people gave the endorsement much chance of changing the status quo, especially since Murkowski didn’t have a record that produced anywhere near as much ire among conservatives as Palin’s former running mate John McCain — who won his primary by 30 points.

If Miller wins this race, it’s a testament to the power of Palin in Alaska and the energy of the Tea Party.  It may also be a warning to pollsters to start making some adjustments to likely-voter models in the days ahead.  We’ll keep an eye on the outcome of this race today.

Update: According to ADN at 8:21 ET, Miller leads Murkowski 51.09% to 48.91%, with 429 out of 438 precincts reporting.  He still has to win absentee ballots or keep the margin small enough to prevail.   Murkowski blames Palin:

Murkowski on Tuesday night took a shot at Palin, saying that when Palin resigned as governor last summer she said she would use her new national role to help out Alaska.

“I think she’s out for her own self-interest. I don’t think she’s out for Alaska’s interest,” Murkowski said as she waited at her campaign headquarters for results to come in.

Update II: From the same article, this looks like it could be a while before a winner is declared:

The final results of the race won’t be known for over a week. The Alaska Division of Elections said over 16,000 absentee ballots were requested and as of Monday night 7,600 had been returned. The first count of absentees will be next Tuesday and there will be two subsequent counts as the absentee votes trickle in on Sept. 3 and on Sept. 8.

That two-point difference amounts to just under 2,000 votes.  Assuming that lead holds up, Murkowski would have to win 4800 of the absentees, or about 63%, in order to make up the difference.  That’s a tall order, even if Miller’s surge came late.

Update III: Via commenter the_nile, Slate may have to do a little egg-wiping from its face today:

On Tuesday, in her home state, Sarah Palin’s favorite will probably get trounced. Joe Miller is widely expected to lose by a large margin to incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary—an embarrassing defeat for the former governor, who has endorsed Miller, but also to Miller’s other major backer, the Tea Party Express.

Miller was a virtual unknown when he announced his Senate candidacy in April. But his big political debut came in June when both Palin and the Tea Party Express endorsed him. Miller sounds like he came out of some kind of Tea Party laboratory, with degrees from West Point and the University of Alaska, a Bronze Star from fighting in the Gulf War, and “correct” positions on guns, abortion, God, and big government (for, against, for, and against, respectively). Miller even has the right look: With a long, lean face, and stubble closer to 10 o’clock than 5, he could almost pass for Chuck Norris.

Unfortunately for him, not even Chuck Norris in his most bad-ass role—which is, of course, Chuck Norris in real life—could rescue the Miller campaign. Always a long shot, Miller lags behind Murkowski, the heir to one of Alaska’s political dynasties, by double digits.

Not even Chuck Norris could rescue Alexandra Gutierrez from her embarrassing defeat this morning.  It appears that Alaskans actually do care about fiscal responsibility at the federal level, regardless of Gutierrez’ charming display of patronization.