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Murkowski: No party necessary in Alaska to win Senate race

Patti Epler

JUNEAU -- U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski finally got to officially celebrate her historic write-in victory with two parties in the state's capital Friday evening.

More than 100 supporters joined her for a pizza and popcorn event at Bullwinkle's, a popular dining spot across from the state office building in the downtown area. Murkowski spent an hour or so working her way around the room, shaking hands, hugging people, posing for pictures and autographing photos and posters.

Murkowski, who lost the Aug. 24 primary to Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller, defeated him in the Nov. 2 general election with a write-in effort that saw more than 100,000 people writing her name on ballots. She was finally declared the winner by the state Division of Elections in late December after surviving a series of court challenges by Miller.

The victory celebrations here are the first of several she's planned around the state but has had little time to actually carry out because Congress started it's new session Jan. 5.

At a similar gathering of supporters when she announced her write-in bid, people chanted "Run Lisa Run." During the campaign, that turned into "Win Lisa Win." On Friday, at least one enthusiastic supporter tried to start a "Draft Lisa Murkowski for President" chorus.

But Murkowski was down playing that idea. "Oh you guys, shut up back there," she hollered good-naturedly, shaking her head.

A camera crew from the cable show "Dan Rather Reports" followed her around Bullwinkle's and interviewed supporters. The crew has been in Anchorage this past week for a show on Murkowski's write-in win and was headed to Fairbanks Friday night after Miller agreed to a last-minute on-camera interview. The show is slated to air Feb. 3 on HDNet.

After Bullwinkle's, she scooted down the road to the ferry terminal and the much classier Twisted Fish where she was greeted by about 100 of her staunchest campaign supporters, volunteers and staff. At that gathering, it wasn't too hard to imagine a "Draft Lisa for President" movement in the future.

Standing on the hearth with a roaring fire behind her, Murkowski surveyed the room and noted that the well-appointed crowd included Republicans, Democrats and independents -- the mix of voters she convinced to back her renegade run against the Republican Party which supported Miller.

"This reminds me of how I came to be serving Alaska for another six years," she said. "I look around this room and we've got a little bit of everything."

The common ground is caring about what happens in Alaska, not Washington, D.C., Murkowski said.

"We can send someone to the U.S. Senate without the backing of a political party. And that's what made history."

And, Murkowski told the crowd, she's not the only one who want to recognize the historic effort. The Smithsonian has asked for one of the blue rubber wristbands that reminded people in gold letters to "write it in, fill it in, Lisa Murkowski."

"They want to put it under 'interesting political artifacts,'" she said.

Many of her supporters are still wearing their bands, weeks after she was formally certified and sworn in as Alaska's senior senator.

Murkowski waved her own wristband, this one a replica made of gold, a present from husband Verne Martell who'd come up with the wristband idea in the first place.

The lesson there, she said, if you keep working hard enough "it'll turn into gold."

Contact Patti Epler at patti(at)alaskadispatch.com.