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updated 11/9/2010 9:44:31 AM ET 2010-11-09T14:44:31

Alaska Senate hopeful Joe Miller says he's cautiously optimistic about his prospects for winning on the eve of the absentee ballot count.

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Election workers plan to begin tallying more than 30,000 absentee ballots Tuesday; the counting of write-in ballots will begin Wednesday.

Initial returns from last week's election showed Miller trailing write-ins by more than 13,000 votes. Sen. Lisa Murkowski ran as a write-in following her loss in the GOP primary to Miller. It's not clear how many of those votes are for her or how many for her were properly cast.

Story: Alaska's Murkowski on cusp of write-in win

Murkowski has sounded confident, telling supporters they'd "made history." But Miller tells The Associated Press this is premature, and says her hiring of a "high-power" legal team suggests she's nervous.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Alaska waits for end to election cliffhanger

  1. Transcript of: Alaska waits for end to election cliffhanger

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: We're following another kind of mystery tonight, this one of a political

    nature: Who will win the United States Senate race in Alaska ? With a pile of write -in votes being counted, determining the winner could get ugly and could last a very long time. NBC 's Kristen Welker reports tonight from Anchorage .

    KRISTEN WELKER reporting: Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller caught in a cliffhanger. Murkowski , the most visible write -in candidate, celebrated Tuesday when returns showed the write -in ballots topped Republican Joe Miller by 13,000 votes. If she wins, she would be the second write -in candidate in US history to claim a Senate seat.

    Senator LISA MURKOWSKI: We recognize that we are not yet complete with making history, but we are poised, and it feels -- it feels pretty good.

    WELKER: How realistic do you think it is for you to win this race?

    Mr. JOE MILLER: Well, you're missing the 31,000 absentee ballots that have not been counted yet, and that's a significant component.

    WELKER: In a campaign that's been full of controversies, now another one: Which write -in ballots should officials count as legitimate? The Miller camp has argued that if Murkowski 's name is misspelled it should not be counted. Election officials have said they will be looking at voter intent. But political analysts wonder what exactly that will mean for the counting process.

    Mr. DON MITCHELL (Political Analyst): There will be attorneys on the shoulder -- on both shoulders of whoever that person is that looks at that ballot.

    WELKER: The battle has been contentious from the beginning. When Miller beat Murkowski in the GOP primary this summer, she was stunned, but defied her own party and ran as a write -in.

    WELKER: Miller was emboldened. Aligned with the tea party , he had the backing of the GOP and Sarah Palin . The race captured national headlines and saw heated debate on both sides, including an allegation that Miller used government computers for personal reasons in 2008 . Do you regret not releasing more information earlier?

    Mr. MILLER: Yeah, this is an event that occurred a couple of years ago, certainly a mistake. I learned from it.

    WELKER: The rancor reached a fever pitch when dozens of self-avowed Miller supporters signed up as write -in candidates to confuse voters. Alaskans say they've seen enough bickering.

    Unidentified Woman: We don't have chads to worry about, but we do have little circles to worry about, and we have spelling to worry about.

    WELKER: They just hope their next senator is named soon. Kristen

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