DENVER (AP) — Senate races in three states and a handful of gubernatorial races remained extraordinarily close Wednesday and seemed destined for contested vote counts that could drag on for weeks.
The tight votes signaled how closely divided American voters are in an election that produced a split Congress, with Republicans taking control of the House and Democrats maintaining power in the Senate.
The candidates in the Washington state and Colorado Senate races were separated by a few thousand votes after campaigns that attracted tens of millions of dollars in spending. The Republican nominee in the Alaska Senate race was already gearing up for a legal fight and sending lawyers to the state.
Several gubernatorial races were in similar territory, including Oregon, Illinois, Connecticut and Maine.
It could take weeks before a winner is named in Alaska's Senate race because of Sen. Lisa Murkowski's write-in candidacy.
No U.S. Senate candidate has won as a write-in since Strom Thurmond did it in 1954, but with 99 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday, write-ins had 41 percent of the vote.
Tea party favorite Joe Miller, who beat Murkowski for the GOP nomination in August by just 2,006 votes, received 34 percent.
But the write-in count only speaks to total ballots cast for write-ins — not to names written on them. Murkowski is one of 160 write-in candidates eligible for the race that featured former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's vigilant support of Miller, and pro-Murkowski ads featuring the late Sen. Ted Stevens. The beloved senator filmed the ads 10 days before his death in a plane crash are ran with the blessing of his family.
"And so we wait," Miller said in a Twitter post after polls closed.
The focus now turns to how and when the write-in ballots are counted. Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees elections, said Wednesday that write-in votes for "Joe Miller" won't count toward Miller's tally because he isn't an official write-in candidate.
Miller's campaign manager, Robert Campbell, suggested a battle loomed.
"As cliched as it is, it's not over till it's over," he said.
The lieutenant governor said he planned to ask the Division of Elections to begin determining who received write-in votes within the next few days.
"The whole point is, we want to do the right thing and we want to do it as fast as we can," he said.
In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet led Republican challenger Ken Buck by about 7,000 votes out of 1.6 million cast, a margin of less than 1 percent.
In Washington, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray led Republican Dino Rossi by about 14,000 votes out of 1.4 million cast. Washington votes almost entirely by mail, and it can take several days to receive and tally all the ballots working their way through the mail.
Washington and Colorado faced the prospect of recounts because the tallies were so close.
Washington has a long history of tight races. Rossi lost the 2004 governor's race by just 133 votes and endured a similarly tight vote in a rematch four years later. In 2000, Maria Cantwell edged Sen. Slade Gorton by about 2,000 votes.
"Unfortunately, we don't know what's going to happen in this race yet," Rossi told supporters in Bellevue. "There's still a lot of ballots to count, you know. But it's Washington state. What are you going to do?"
Florida has a unique place in American history when it comes to close vote counts given its role in settling the 2000 presidential race. This year, it looked like it could have been the site of a smaller post-election squabble in the governor's race between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink.
Scott was clinging to a lead of just tens of thousands of votes out of more than 5 million cast when Sink conceded the race Wednesday.
In Vermont, the gubernatorial election between Democrat Peter Shumlin and Republican Brian Dubie seemed headed for the Legislature to decide the winner in January.
Under Vermont's Constitution, lawmakers chose the governor by secret ballot if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote plus one vote. Shumlin had 49.4 percent of the vote early Wednesday compared with Dubie's 47.9 percent, but Dubie conceded Wednesday and has said he wouldn't pursue election in the Legislature if he was clearly behind.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska; Curt Woodward in Olympia, Wash.; Matt Sedensky in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Dave Gram in Montpelier, Vt.
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