In Senate contest, the vitriol boils over

Erika Bolstad,Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services,Kyle Hopkins
Sen. Lisa Murkowski vows to keep fighting until results are final at a press conference at her Anchorage campaign headquarters Wednesday, August 25, 2010, in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Republican Alaska gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller supporter John Slone at the end of a long evening at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Rod Perry talks with republican Alaska Lt. gubernatorial candidate Eddie Burke at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks with reporters at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller supporters check on election results at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kathleen Miller and her husband US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller cut the ceremonial first piece of cake with the help of Miller assistant Adele Morgan at the Snow Goose restaurant before walking over to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Republican Alaska gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller his wife Kathleen and two of their children Jake and Katy Miller at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks with a reporter at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Republican US Senate candidate Joe Miller at the Snow Goose Restaurant in downtown Anchorage on primary election night.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller signs a campaign sign for supporter 10 year old Dillon Chilstrom as his younger 4 year old Evan Chilstrom looks on at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kathleen Miller and her husband US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller cut the ceremonial first piece of cake with the help of Miller assistant Adele Morgan at the Snow Goose restaurant before walking over to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller supporter 4 year old Evan Chilstrom holds up a sign at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks with a reporter at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller and his daughter Katy Miller look towards the election results screen at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kathleen Miller and her husband US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller and supporters walk from the Snow Goose to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller has his photo made with his nephew Andrew Zingone at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks to his supporters at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller supporter Brian Swanson at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Supporters view the results at election central in the Egan Center Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Joe Miller supporters take a break at election central in the Egan Center Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010, after a long day campaigning and waving signs for the U.S. Senate candidate.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks with a reporter at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Lisa Murkowski is welcomed by supporters as she arrives at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller supporter Stuart Barnes at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller and his wife Kathleen Miller at the Snow Goose to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller, at right, checks his iPhone for results at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage as Eddie Zingone and press secretary Randy DeSoto look on. Photographed on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller supporters at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Gov. Sean Parnell waves to motorists heading south along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Governor candidate Diane Benson and supporters in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kathleen Miller and her husband US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller and supporters walk from the Snow Goose to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Supporter Mike Wery watches for election returns Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Sharon Blackbird, right, receives her voting sticker after casting a ballot wtih Linda Hobert at First Presbyterian Church Tuesday August 24, 2010 downtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Precinct worker Linda Hobert, left, assists Cynthia Aiken with her ballot at First Presbyterian Church Tuesday August 24, 2010 downtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Gov. Sean Parnell and his wife Sandy at election central in the Egan Center Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Gov. candidate Jay Ramras is still hopefull as he arrives at the Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Rose Abraham-Nelson, right, shows daughter Laurel Nelson, 12, the voting process Tuesday August 24, 2010 at East Anchorage United Methodist Church. Laurel is a home schooled seventh grader.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Opponents of ballot measure 2 greet vehicles driving Benson Boulevard at the Seward Highway Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Ralph Samuels solicits votes along Minnesota Drive at Benson Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in west Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Supporters watch election returns on a big screen television at Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Gubernatorial candidate Ethan Berkowitz campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Sylvia Kaderman, right, receives her voting sticker from Art Wolff after casting her ballot Tuesday August 24, 2010 at East Anchorage United Methodist Church.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Audra Dressler solicits votes for Bill Walker from the median of the Seward Highway at Benson Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Roy Burkhart and his wife June wait for election returns at Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Bernadette Wilson, campaign manager for Yes on 2, attaches balloons to their signs to help separate them from candidate signs along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
U.S. House candidate Sheldon Fisher campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
The Hollis French and Lisa Murkowski campaigns share a corner along the Seward Highway at Benson Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Lisa Murkowski is welcomed by supporters as she arrives at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with supporter Marty Weeks at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Sign wavers swarm corners and the median in and around the Seward Highway at Northern Lights Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A parked SUV advertises support for Mead Treadwell along the Seward Highway Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Lisa Murkowski supporters campaign from a convertible driven south on Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller, at right, talks with supporters including Greg Pugh of Wasilla, at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Rose Abraham-Nelson, left, walks daughter Laurel Nelson, 12, through the voting process as she casts her ballot Tuesday August 24, 2010 at East Anchorage United Methodist Church. Laurel is a home schooled seventh grader.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Kaitlyn Torino, 3, shares voting booth space with aunt Vickie Castro at First Presbyterian Church Tuesday August 24, 2010 downtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A sign beckons voters out of the warm sunshine at First Presbyterian Church Tuesday August 24, 2010 downtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Gov. Sean Parnell greets traffic along the Seward Highway Tuesday August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Joe Miller supporters campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker, blue shirt, campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Gov. candidate Mead Treadwell campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Gov. candidate Mead Treadwell campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Supporters for gubernatorial candidate Hollis French wave campaign signs from the top of a dog truck parked in the Sears parking lot along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Campaigning along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Hollis French greets traffic along the Seward Highway Tuesday, August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A trucker is greeted by a jumble of signs along the Seward Highway at Northern Lights Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Congressman Don Young supporters campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Gov. candidate Jay Ramras of Fairbanks campaigns along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Signs and a freight sled are displayed in support of Joe Miller along the Seward Highway at Northern Lights Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Campaigning along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, criticized for not hitting back harder at her primary opponent before Tuesday's election, lashed out on Friday at fellow Republican Joe Miller as "paranoid" for suggesting her campaign's lawyers wanted to skew the results of the election.

And then, even as more than 20,000 ballots remain uncounted and the Republican primary remains unresolved, Murkowski demanded an apology from Miller for what was seen as a crude remark about her campaign via the social networking platform Twitter.

The vitriol began boiling over Friday when Miller's campaign accused the National Republican Senatorial Committee of trying to manipulate the outcome of the race by sending lawyer Sean Cairncross to assist Murkowski with legal questions surrounding the ballot count.

The committee's place is "on the sidelines," he said in a statement.

"You have to be concerned anytime somebody lawyers up and tries to pull an Al Franken, if you will," Miller said, referring to the 2008 ballot recount battle between then-Sen. Norm Coleman and the Democrat who beat him, Al Franken. "We are very aware that there may be some attempt here to skew the results. I hope that is not the case. Alaskans won't stand for any post-election foul play; the accurate vote of the people must stand."

Murkowski fired back, suggesting Miller had first "lawyered up" by hiring Sarah Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, who's best known for defending the former Alaska governor against ethics complaints. Palin endorsed Miller in the race and is credited with steering his way hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the Tea Party Express.

"To suggest that the NRSC has sent an attorney to Alaska to skew results is paranoid," Murkowski said.

She said her lawyers were hired "to make sure that every Alaskan's vote counts in this election. Mr. Miller shouldn't be afraid of what the voters still have to say about this race. We have volunteers at polling sites observing the process and anticipate that when the final numbers are tallied we will prevail."

The attack on the NRSC was somewhat unusual -- on Wednesday, the committee confirmed it had also spoken to Miller and had assured him that were he to prevail in the primary, he would have its full support. Miller, though, appearing on the Fox Business Network, accused the NRSC of meddling in the primary. He told the host he had "stood up to the establishment before."

"So you know, we're up against a machine," he said. "Clearly they're putting their pressure to bear but I think we're going to prevail at the end."

Miller holds a 1,668-vote lead but more than 20,000 absentee and questioned ballots remain to be processed and counted.

TWITTER UPROAR AND A WRECK

Miller's day began with a three-car collision in Fairbanks in the morning and, by the end, concluded with him issuing an apology for what a staffer wrote under his name on Twitter about Murkowski.

Alaska State Troopers reported Miller was in a three-vehicle accident in which his pickup rear-ended another vehicle, which, in turn, rear-ended the third vehicle in a middle-turn lane. No one was hurt, it was unclear who was at fault and no one was cited, troopers said.

The Twitter dispute began when Miller's campaign addressed rumors that Murkowski might join the Libertarian Party ticket if he prevails in the Republican primary. This was the controversial tweet: "What's the difference between selling out your party's values and the oldest profession?"

The tweet was quickly deleted but it refused to die a quiet death. It was forwarded - known as retweeting - throughout cyberspace within minutes. It was posted on news sites and partisan blogs.

Murkowski, in a written response, called the Twitter remark "disgusting" and said Miller owed Alaskans, women and her family an apology.

"Alaskans deserve better. This type of statement is inexcusable from someone who wants to represent our state," she said. "While I have been focused on the remaining ballots, the Miller campaign has launched yet another smear campaign against me. They lied about my record during the primary and now they have resorted to name-calling -- it's disgusting."

A spokesman for Miller, Randy DeSoto, blamed the tweet on a staffer and said the staffer's tweeting privileges had been revoked. The Miller campaign said initially the reference was to the Libertarian Party, not Murkowski herself.

"Please accept my apologies," the campaign wrote on Twitter. "Staffer trying to encourage Libertarians not to sell out."

Later, Murkowski got her apology. Miller's campaign, in a longer written statement, said the tweet was to " encourage the Libertarians to stay true their party's values and not to allow Senator Murkowski to run under their banner."

Miller said the tweet from a volunteer who assists him with social networking "was in poor judgment."

"And while the comments have been misconstrued (they were directed at the Libertarian Party), I don't stand by those comments," he said in a statement. "The Libertarians are free to choose whomever they want to represent them. It's up to them to decide who best represents their values. I am a Republican Party U.S. Senate candidate, and look forward to representing that party's message of limited government and returning power to the states and the people who live in them."

He added this: "I certainly apologize to Senator Murkowski for any hurt feelings caused by this poorly conceived post."

LIBERTARIAN OPTION?

Technically, Murkowski has the option of running on the Libertarian ticket in the November general election. The Alaska Libertarian Party has discussed the possibility, and its Senate candidate, David Haase, has said he is open to talking to Murkowski about him stepping aside.

Andrew Halcro, a Murkowski supporter who served with her in the state Legislature, spoke to Haase Wednesday about the possibility. Halcro said he was acting on his own and not coordinating with the Murkowski campaign, although he had mentioned it to her.

Murkowski's campaign director, John Bitney, said Friday afternoon that the Libertarian option isn't being discussed within the campaign. The campaign has not spoken to anyone with the Libertarian Party, Bitney said.

"It's speculation on a whole bunch of people's part," he said. "This is an ongoing election and the ballots are still being counted. That's what we're focused on, making sure every vote counts."

Regardless, Halcro said he was commissioning a Dittman Research poll over the weekend to test how Murkowski would fare if she did run as a Libertarian. It also will ask how people would vote in a race between Miller, Democrat Scott McAdams, and Murkowski running on a third-party ticket.

Meanwhile, the undisputed Democrat in the race, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, sat quietly while the Republicans duked it out. It gave national Democrats some breathing room to evaluate what sort of resources to devote to a race they previously had no intention of getting involved in -- although they did on Friday unveil a teapot- and teacup-themed website that painted Miller as part of Palin's "Tea Party set."

McAdams made the most of it, also on Twitter: "While those two are fighting and squabbling, join our positive campaign," he wrote. "Get friends to follow us and contribute."

Miller too will be aiming to boost his profile in the coming days. His campaign said he is expected to have a number of national television appearances over the next several days, including an appearance on the CBS News Sunday morning program "Face the Nation." He's also expected to make a series of appearance on Fox News on Monday.

Erika Bolstad reported from Washington, D.C., and Sean Cockerham and Kyle Hopkins reported from Anchorage. Follow us on Twitter: twitter.com/adndotcom.

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By ERIKA BOLSTAD, SEAN COCKERHAM and KYLE HOPKINS
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