U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has conceded her Senate primary race to Joe Miller.
Murkowski made the concession speech Tuesday night, a full week after the primary.
Murkowski trailed Miller, a Fairbanks attorney, by 1,668 votes after last week's primary. Election officials began counting absentee and outstanding ballots Tuesday. Murkowski made slight gains but was never able to get Miller's lead below 1,200 votes.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Sen. Lisa Murkowski narrowed the gap Tuesday on challenger Joe Miller in their razor-thin GOP primary but still needs to make a late charge in the vote count to avoid being ousted.
Alaska began counting thousands of absentee and other ballots Tuesday from last week's primary, and Murkowski trailed Miller by 1,469 votes by mid-afternoon. She began the day with a nearly 1,700-vote deficit.
Thousands more ballots still need to be counted Tuesday and by a Sept. 8 deadline, meaning the race will likely go down to the wire.
The initial tally is a positive sign for Miller because he still maintains a decent lead. But Murkowski could still pick up enough votes to hold off Miller, who has never held elected office but enjoyed the backing of former Gov. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express.
Murkowski is hoping to avoid the fate that has befallen other incumbents nationwide as they were swept out of office in 2010 amid an anti-incumbent fervor.
The contest has turned bitter in recent days with Miller accusing Murkowski of trying to steal the election by tampering with the vote. Murkowski shot back by saying Miller is paranoid and dealing in trumped-up, misleading rhetoric.
With observers from the Miller and Murkowski camps on hand, counting began in Anchorage and played out in similar fashion later in the day at regional offices in Wasilla, Juneau and Fairbanks.
Election workers at each location took ballots that had been reviewed and deemed eligible and fed them into counting machines.
It's the second time in two years that Alaskans have been kept in suspense over a U.S. Senate seat.
A week after Election Day in November 2008, roughly 30 percent of the vote — about 90,000 ballots — had not been counted in the race between incumbent Republican Ted Stevens and his challenger, Democrat Mark Begich.
Stevens, who died recently in an airplane crash, led Begich by 3,257 votes. Begich prevailed when the early, absentee ballots and questioned ballots were tallied.
Elections director Gail Fenumiai says election officials are dealing with the same obstacles as two years ago.
Some far-flung villages off the road system do not have daily mail service and weather can hamper scheduled delivery, which means ballots and voter rolls can trickle in slowly.
The count will occur in two phases. Tuesday's count will tally up about 15,000 absentee, questioned and early ballots. Then about 10,000 additional ballots will have to be counted by Sept. 8 — votes that Murkowski may have to pin her hopes on if she wants to win re-election.
Not all of the outstanding ballots will be from the Republican primary. Democrats and other parties voted Aug. 24 on a separate ballot.
The winner of the GOP nomination will be the immediate front-runner in this heavily Republican state.
The Republican Stevens nearly defeated Begich in November 2008 despite a conviction in late October that year of failing to disclose gifts from a supporter. Five months after the election, Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the indictment and declined to proceed with a new trial because of misconduct by federal prosecutors.
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