Nov. 17, 2010— -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski defied the odds and defeated her Republican opponent Joe Miller to become the first incumbent, and only the second person in history, to wage a successful write-in campaign for a U.S. Senate seat.
"We made history," Murkowski told supporters gathered in Alaska this evening. "Alaskans made history. And doesn't it just feel -- wow! -- still a little bit mind boggling? And that's why it's important to be surrounded by friends, supporters."
Murkowski apparently emerged victorious by a narrow margin. As of Tuesday evening, Murkowski had won more than 90 percent of the write-in votes and had a lead of more than 10,000 votes over Miller.
Miller defeated Murkowski in a rancorous Republican primary, so Murkowski's decision to mount a write-in campaign meant the general election pitted Republicans against Republicans.
But Murkowski toned down the rancor this evening, thanking Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams, who finished third.
"Both of these men put their heart and soul ... into this campaign," she said. "What a wild, wild two months that has been."
She called upon her opponents to unite with her in the interest of Alaska.
"This is now the unifying time," she said. "This is now when we as Alaskans say, 'OK, the campaign is over. Let's go to work.'"
Despite Murkowski's lead, Miller today refused to concede, saying he was "less cautiously optimistic" but would wait until military ballots from overseas were counted to make a final decision.
Miller assailed the state elections division, questioning whether the agency sent out military ballots in a timely manner. He also was challenging the decision to count write-in ballots that were misspelled, but which election officials said showed voter intent.
"We also want to make sure going forward the state of Alaska imposed the statutory standard, that we don't end up having in the future the same sort of thing we had in this race, where you have an unelected bureaucrat that basically makes the call," he said on Fox News today. "We essentially got one super-voter right now that is applying inconsistently the standard that they developed just 36 hours before the count began."
Miller, a Desert Storm veteran, suggested that he might request a recount, specifically a hand recount, of all his ballots.
"To suggest that we aren't going to, not necessarily take advantage but ensure the integrity of the vote by applying the same sort of count to our votes ... I just think it's kind of disingenuous," he said. "Sen. Murkowski is going to do what she's going to do. We aren't going to stand in the way of her press conference obviously tonight, but we're going to make sure we maintain our position, that the integrity of the vote matters and especially these military votes matter."
Miller may have to pay for the recount himself if he wants one. If there is a difference of 20 or fewer votes, or less than 0.5 percent, the state pays for the recount. If not, the candidate requesting the recount has to pay $15,000. All of that money is refunded if the votes were indeed miscounted.
With today's win, Murkowski becomes the first incumbent senator to win through a write-in campaign.
The only other person to win a U.S. Senate seat in a write-in campaign was Strom Thurmond, who ran in South Carolina in 1954. No write-in candidate has ever been successful in Alaska.
Murkowski went quickly from the bottom to the top. She lost in a brutal primary against Miller, a virtual unknown, who received an important endorsement from Palin and whose coffers were filled by the Tea Party Express, which helped several other candidates to victory.
Miller painted Murkowski as a Washington insider who supported President Obama's agenda and programs like the $787 billion stimulus bill.
Even though she eventually lost to the Tea Party candidate in one of the biggest upsets of the primaries, Murkowski wouldn't give up. She waged a write-in campaign on the Republican ballot and spearheaded a campaign -- funded mostly by her own money -- that focused on not only her record but getting voters to remember the spelling of her name.
AP Projects Lisa Murkowski Wins Alaska Senate Race
Miller, meanwhile, dropped in the polls as he was dogged by scandals involving his time as an attorney at the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Miller admitted he used his employers equipment to voice his opposition to then-Republican party chairman Randy Ruedrich.
Miller was also accused by his opponents of hypocrisy. The candidate was an outspoken critic of federal programs even though he and his family received Medicaid. Miller, a staunch critic of big government and entitlement programs, also accepted federal farm subsidies and low-income hunting and fishing licenses, according to local reports.
Miller has continuously fought the results of the write-in ballots. He currently has two lawsuits pending against the Alaska Elections Division. One claiming that their decision to count misspelled ballots if they show voter intent is unconstitutional, and a second one seeking voter rolls from some precincts.
Murkowski received a lukewarm reception from the Republican leadership when she returned to Washington, D.C. on Monday. The senator was stripped of her leadership post when she announced her write-in campaign, even as GOP leaders secretly prepared for the possibility of Miller's downfall.
The incumbent senator had heavy criticism for her opponents like Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint.
"I think some of the Republicans in the Congress feel pretty strongly that he and his actions potentially cost us the majority by encouraging candidates that ended up not being electable," Murkowski told Politico Tuesday.
ABC News' Michael S. James contributed to this report.