Political Notebook

Write-in votes send Murkowski back to Senate

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska lost the Republican primary in August. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska lost the Republican primary in August. (Harry Hamburg/Associated Press)
November 18, 2010

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JUNEAU, Alaska — Senator Lisa Murkowski became the first Senate candidate in more than 50 years to win a write-in campaign, emerging victorious yesterday over her Tea Party movement-backed rival after a painstaking, weeklong count of handwritten votes.

The victory completes a remarkable comeback for the Republican after her humiliating loss in the primary to Joe Miller.

Her victory became clear when Alaska election officials confirmed they had only about 700 votes left to count, putting Murkowski in safe territory to win reelection.

Murkowski has a lead of about 10,000 votes, a total that includes 8,153 ballots that Miller observers challenged over misspellings, extra words, or legibility issues.

It was not immediately clear how Miller will proceed. He and his advisers have vowed to take legal action over what they contend is an unfair tally in Murkowski’s favor, but Miller has said he’ll stop fighting if the math doesn’t work in his favor. His campaign didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Miller’s loss is a major rebuke for Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate who backed Miller and has long had a tense relationship with the Murkowski family. Miller’s defeat means Palin couldn’t deliver in her home state for a candidate she roundly endorsed.

The write-in bid was an effort Murkowski almost didn’t undertake after her stunning loss in the August primary to Miller. She went back and forth on whether to run but ultimately decided to wage a write-in campaign, saying she had been encouraged by Alaskans who wanted a reasonable alternative between the conservative Miller and the little-known Democratic nominee.

Murkowski will return to Washington in an odd position in the Republican Party. The National Republican Senatorial Committee threw its support and cash behind Miller, opting to back the candidate who received the GOP nomination. And she has never had many friends within the Tea Party movement, putting her at odds with that faction of the party as well.

Though she plans to caucus with Republicans, she said she won’t be beholden to any special interests or party — an initial sign that she may not try to reclaim her leadership post within the GOP conference. She voluntarily resigned it in deciding to make her outsider run.

— Associated Press

Pelosi, Boehner keep jobs as their parties’ leaders
WASHINGTON — House Democrats reelected Nancy Pelosi as their leader yesterday despite massive party losses in the congressional elections, which prompted some lawmakers to call for new leadership.

Pelosi, the nation’s first female House speaker, will become minority leader when Republicans assume the majority in the new Congress in January.

She defeated a moderate Democrat, Representative Heath Shuler of North Carolina, 150-43, in secret balloting during a lengthy closed-door gathering of House Democrats.

Pelosi, 70, overcame a rebellion from party centrists and even some fellow liberals, who argued that they needed a new leader after losing at least 60 House seats on Nov. 2. She remains popular among the liberals who dominate the party’s House caucus. But Shuler’s level of support — plus an earlier 129-68 vote against postponing the election that Pelosi wanted to wrap up quickly — underscored the degree of discontent in a party that Pelosi had largely bent to her will in the past four years.

Republicans voted to keep John Boehner of Ohio as their top House leader. Boehner, 61, had no opposition and will become speaker in the new Congress. Eric Cantor of Virginia will become majority leader.

— Associated Press

Russell, George H.W. Bush to get Medal of Freedom
WASHINGTON — Boston Celtics icon Bill Russell will join President George H.W. Bush and several other New Englanders as recipients of the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

President Obama will present the awards to the 15 honorees early next year, the White House said yesterday.

Other winners include a civil rights hero, Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia; St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan “The Man’’ Musial; German Chancellor Angela Merkel; poet Maya Angelou; and renowned investor Warren Buffett.

Recipients with ties to New England include renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Jean Kennedy Smith, who served as US ambassador to Ireland and founded VSA, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that promotes the artistic talents of children and adults with disabilities.

Obama’s bipartisan gesture in picking Bush for the honor is not unprecedented. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, awarded a Medal of Freedom to President Gerald Ford, a Republican.

Russell appears to be the first professional basketball player to be honored. But he’s not the first athlete familiar to Boston fans. Ted Williams was given the award in 1991.

“Bill Russell is the former Boston Celtics’ captain who almost singlehandedly redefined the game of basketball,’’ the White House said. “Russell led the Celtics to a virtually unparalleled string of 11 championships in 13 years and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times. The first African American to coach in the NBA — indeed he was the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the United States — Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights.’’

— Associated Press top stories on Twitter

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