U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who lost Alaska's GOP primary last month in a stunning upset to a tea-party backed rival, announced Friday that she'll mount a write-in candidacy in a bid to hold onto her job.
"The campaign for Alaska's future begins," Murkowski told an Anchorage rally while surrounded by supporters chanting "Run, Lisa, Run!"
Murkowksi told supporters at a late afternoon rally in Anchorage that she's worried about Republican nominee Joe Miller's extremist views, as well as the Democratic candidate's inexperience.
The decision follows Miller's surprise win in last month's primary. Murkowski acknowledged she made mistakes during the primary campaign, but promised she'll be more aggressive this time in running against Miller.
"The gloves are off," she said.
"This is Alaska, where we come together, and we embrace one another for who we are, not because we may share the same political label, but because of who we are and what we contribute to our state," she said. "This is what makes Alaska great, not our political labels."
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin urged Murkowski on Twitter Friday afternoon to recognize that the state's primary voters demonstrated their support for Miller, a tea party favorite.
"Listen to the people, respect their will," said Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee. "Voters chose Joe instead."
At an Iowa dinner, Palin called Murkowski's bid "a futile effort on her part, it really is."
"She certainly has the right to do so, but Joe Miller is the right person to lead the state and this country," Palin told reporters in Des Moines, after a speech at the Iowa Republican Party's Ronald Reagan dinner.
Miller told The Associated Press Friday night that voters chose to support him because they wanted to move away from Murkowski's agenda, which he said includes looking to government as the answer.
"Liberals don't relinquish power easily, that would be my first observation," he said.
The convention center where the rally was held featured signs reading "Let's Make History," and had a table where people could sign up to help Murkowski's campaign. Prominently displayed, too, was a photo of the late Sen. Ted Stevens with his arm around Murkowski.
Stevens is beloved in this state for bringing billions of dollars in federal aid and project to Alaska, and he was one of her biggest cheerleaders before his death last month.
The decision to launch a write-in bid follows Murkowski's surprise defeat by Miller last month.
Murkowski has said she has considered her options since conceding the race to Miller and following an outpouring of encouragement from Alaskans stunned by her loss.
Earlier this month, she told The Associated Press she wasn't a quitter and "still in this game." On Thursday, she told reporters that while there's a lot of risk involved in a run, success was possible.
"And I think this is the hope that Alaskans have been sharing with me," she said, "that if it is possible, Lisa, will you give it a try? Will you give us a choice?"
In running, Murkowski would face long odds. Historians and election officials can think of no Alaska candidate who has successfully run as a write-in.
She also has lost support from within the Republican establishment with some leaders urging her either to wait to challenge Alaska's Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in 2014 or to join them in supporting Miller, the self-described "constitutional conservative" who also has been endorsed by Sarah Palin. Murkowski also would have just has over six weeks to gear up a campaign and turn out the vote.
But she also enjoys widespread name recognition, and her campaign estimates she has about $1 million left in the bank. Plus, the race features a "kind of perfect storm of the things you need for a write-in to be successful," pollster Ivan Moore said. Among those, he said: a vast middle of Alaskans — "tens of thousands" — looking between Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams and questioning their choices.
The largest bloc of registered voters in Alaska are nonpartisan and undeclared.
Heather Handyside, a spokeswoman for McAdams, said McAdams welcomed Murkowski to the race. She said the campaign didn't see how it was "statistically possible" for Murkowski to win and that her entry doesn't change McAdams' strategy at all.
"He still respects Sen. Murkowski but he knows it's impossible for her to win," she said.
Political observers say that, to win, Murkowski would have to be far more aggressive than she was in the primary, when she touted the benefits of her seniority for Alaska and ran largely on her record. Miller cast her as part of the problem in an out-of-control Washington, and the California-based Tea Party Express, which reported spending more than $550,000 in support of Miller, called her a liberal Republican in name only and repeated stated in seemingly ubiquitous ads claims that she opposed repeal of the federal health care overhaul — claims she called false but didn't challenge until late.
Murkowski recently called the Tea Party Express an "extremist" group and said it has "hijacked" the state GOP. The group responded that it would work twice as hard as it did in the primary to defeat her if she ran as a write-in.
To successfully run, Moore said, she "has to attack ... forcibly in both directions," pushing Miller "relentlessly to the far right" and painting McAdams, a small-town mayor as "not ready for this."
Carl Shepro, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said she would have a good shot at victory, despite what history shows.
"No question it's going to be a tough thing, it's not going to be easy at all," he said. "But, hey, at some point, somebody has to be able to do it even though the arguments are pretty much in the opposite direction."