Two weeks ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the sure winner of the Alaska Republican Senate race. As of Aug. 4, she had raised nearly $3 million for her campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission, compared to $283,473 raised by her opponent, Joe Miller.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, the Tea Party-favored candidate and once a virtual unknown is ahead of Murkowski with 51 percent of the votes, and is expected to overtake the incumbent and the Democratic challenger to become the next senator from Alaska.
Even though she was trailing behind, Murkowski projected confidence at a press conference this afternoon: "We know for a fact that it ain't over yet until it's over," she said, adding, "There is much, much yet to be counted."
The Alaska Elections Division said it will have its first count of absentee ballots on Aug. 31 so results may not come for another two weeks. But some say those figures are unlikely to make a difference.
"It was a David and Goliath kind of thing. I don't think anyone gave the possibility of Joe Miller winning much credibility until the last couple of days," said Alaska pollster Ivan Moore. "It's a huge surprise and I think Lisa got caught napping."
Some Republican insiders blamed Murkowski's apparent loss on her not taking Miller's threat seriously enough. One Republican strategist said that Murkowski's campaign was advised 10 weeks ago to use her huge monetary funds to attack Miller.
Instead, she targeted President Obama and touted her work in helping Alaskans. It was only on Aug. 23 -- a day before the elections -- that she finally went up with a negative radio ad against Miller. At that point, it was too late.
"Lisa made a fatal error," GOP pollster and political consultant Marc Hellenthal said. "She was attacked with negatives and she ran her ads against Obama, who wasn't on the ballot.
"She didn't bother to say to anybody that the negatives weren't true. She blew a phenomenal lead, a 40-point lead."
Miller is a self-described "constitutional conservative" who has earned high-profile endorsements -- Palin, Mike Huckabee, and conservative commentators Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin. Miller said on "Top Line" that he doesn't believe unemployment benefits are constitutionally authorized, and has defended the overt display of guns in his rallies.
In the past week, he bombarded Alaskans with negative ads accusing Murkowski of supporting Obama's agenda, voting for the $787 billion stimulus package -- which she did not do -- and not pushing to repeal the health care law.
Murkowski also took a beating for being too soft on abortion, a hot-button issue among conservatives. Miller's campaign accused the incumbent senator of not being pro-life.
Murkowski's voting record on the issue is mixed. Most recently, she voted for restricting United Nations funds for population control policies but voted no in 2007 on a measure that would have barred Health and Human Services from giving grants to organizations that provide abortion services.