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Tea Party, Palin Battle GOP Over Murkowski-Miller Outcome

By David A. Patten   |   Friday, 27 Aug 2010 01:31 PM

A major battle is brewing in Alaska between grass-roots conservatives and the national Republican establishment after a GOP committee sent its top legal gun to help incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski win her absentee-ballot clash with Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller.

Miller leads Murkowski in the GOP Senate primary race by a razor-thin 1,668 votes.

The struggle escalated Thursday when the National Republican Senatorial Committee ordered its chief counsel to Anchorage to help Murkowski during the absentee-balloting process.

"We're up against a machine," Miller told Fox News, adding, "It concerns us anytime that somebody lawyers up and tries to pull an Al Franken, if you will."

Editor's Note: See Newsmax's exclusive interview with Joe Miller the day after the Alaska primary — Go Here Now.

Miller's campaign is countering the senatorial committee's injection into the race with heavyweight legal artillery of its own, however. Sarah Palin's personal attorney, Thomas V. Van Flein of Fairbanks, has entered the fray on Miller's behalf.

Palin's endorsement of Miller was credited as a major factor in his last-minute surge.

On Thursday, Van Flein wrote a letter to Gail Fenumiai, the state’s elections director who will oversee the counting of absentee ballots, asking that a Murkowski campaign observer, Bonnie Jack, be "disbarred" from future election activities.

"As you are aware," Flein wrote Fenumiai, "based on the eye witness accounts of your staff and the Miller Campaign team present, Ms. Jack used confidential voter information outside the voter observation confines and called a voter to resurrect a disqualified ballot."

Van Flein's action against a Murkowski campaign worker for alleged voting irregularities reflected the mounting tensions between grass-roots conservatives and national GOP leaders over what promises to be a contentious absentee count scheduled to begin Tuesday.

The stakes in that recount also escalated Friday with the news that the Division of Elections now has as many as 20,896 absentee and provisional ballots to tabulate. Earlier reports held that about 7,600 absentee ballots had been returned.

The much larger pool of potential votes would give Murkowski a greater chance of making up her deficit in the too-close-to-call election.

The Alaska Division of Elections did not respond immediately to a Newsmax request for an explanation for the large jump in outstanding ballots yet to be counted.

On Thursday, Miller told Fox: "We are very concerned that there may be some attempt here to skew the results."

Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo tells Newsmax it is "somewhat outrageous" that the National Republican Senatorial Committee would expend resources helping Murkowski, given her refusal to disavow running as a Libertarian or independent if she ultimately loses.

"The Senate committee should be unequivocal about, you know, they'll help Joe Miller if she's not going to pull out [of the race if she loses]. I mean, she's forfeited in my opinion, any support from any Republican if she keeps that door open. Period. That's totally unacceptable," he says.

Although Russo concedes part of the senatorial committee's job is to help Republican senators win re-election, he points to the example of Charlie Crist, who left the Republican Party when he appeared headed for a defeat at the hands of conservative favorite Marco Rubio in the GOP Senate primary in Florida.

"I think we're seeing signs of that from Lisa Murkowski, which is quite disappointing," Russo tells Newsmax. "It's not that she's made the decision, which as far as I know she hasn't. But the fact that she would consider that decision is an outrage."

As for the GOP senatorial committee's help for Murkowski under those circumstances, Russo adds: "Why does the establishment have such a hard time understanding why the grass-roots supporters don’t like them?"

The Murkowski campaign has said any discussion of a third-party bid if Miller wins is premature.

According to Alaska's Division of Elections, not all of the 20,896 ballots were cast in the Republican Senate primary. But Republican votes outnumbered Democratic ballots 3-to-1in the primary.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that Murkowski campaign manager John Bitney stated a "very, very high percentage" of the outstanding ballots are Republican, and therefore would be considered eligible to be counted.

Russo tells Newsmax that his sources in the Miller campaign tell him that they made a strong effort to encourage supporters to mail in their absentee ballots. Military overseas ballots are also included in the pool of uncounted votes, and as a West Point graduate and Gulf War veteran, Russo is confident he will win a majority of them.

Murkowski's supporters, however, point out that most absentee ballots were dropped in the mailbox before Miller began his last-minute surge, which could suggest the absentee ballots would disproportionately favor the incumbent.

Russo, who says the Tea Party Express poured more than $600,000 into the race on Miller's behalf, tells Newsmax he probably will launch a fundraising campaign to help Miller defray the costs of battle over absentee ballots.

"Our thought was to wait and see what happens on Monday, because it is our understanding that most of the ballots are going to be counted on Tuesday," Russo tells Newsmax.

Three vote counts will determine the winner. The first, scheduled for Tuesday, will count all absentee ballots. On Sept. 3, questioned or provisional ballots that have been ruled valid will be counted. Then on Sept. 8, election judges will conduct a final count of absentees, and all other outstanding ballots.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that, if three-fourths of the 20,896 ballots were ultimately ruled to be valid and counted, Murkowski would need to win about 55 percent of those ballots to win.

Editor's Note: See Newsmax's exclusive interview with Joe Miller the day after the Alaska primary — Go Here Now.

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