Challenger Joe Miller built a sizable vote advantage in the Valley and the Interior over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski that she could not blunt by running stronger than Miller in Anchorage, a breakdown of the vote in last week's U.S. Senate Republican primary reveals.
After the Election Day voting, Miller led Murkowski by 1,668 votes, or 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent.
Thousands of absentee and questioned ballots aren't included in that breakdown. The first count of those ballots is set for today, with additional counts in September as more absentees arrive.
Among the most striking findings from the Election Day results:
• Miller won a majority of votes in every House district from Fairbanks south through Mat-Su and into Eagle River. And he won some of them big. In North Pole, Wasilla and Chugiak, Miller won every precinct. His biggest margins of victory were in the districts of Reps. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, which is District 11, and Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, District 14. In both, he collected 65 percent of the vote to Murkowski's 35 percent.
• Not counting Eagle River, voters in just two Anchorage House districts went for Miller. It didn't matter whether the district is represented by a Democrat or a Republican in the state Legislature. Murkowski collected more votes than Miller in conservative South Anchorage districts and in liberal downtown districts.
In fact, the only two Anchorage House districts in which Miller collected more votes, other than in Eagle River, are both held by Democrats in the Legislature. Still, both districts -- 19 (in East Anchorage) and 29 (in South Anchorage) -- were in Republican hands two years ago.
• Murkowski bested Miller in Southeast but generally didn't lead by as much as she led former state Senate President Mike Miller in the 2004 primary. And in rural western and northern districts, where Murkowski collected better than 72 percent of the vote this time, many voters are registered Democrat and couldn't vote in the Republican primary. So her big margins there didn't generate large numbers of votes.
Political leaders, campaign workers and volunteers all had their own take on why each candidate won where they did.
"We knew Anchorage might be a little harder for us," said Randy DeSoto, Miller campaign spokesman. "Murkowski was so well-known. That is an established area of the state."
State Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said he thinks Murkowski did well in his South Anchorage district -- ahead of the more conservative Miller by about 500 votes -- because of the higher voter turnout there. More than 36 percent of the voters in District 28 cast ballots compared with 28 percent turnout statewide before the absentee count.
Johnson said he thinks a bigger turnout dilutes the effect of extremist voters who may be passionate about a single candidate or issue, such as the parental notification for abortion voter initiative that also was on the primary ballot. Miller campaigned hard for that measure and made it his own.
Most voters in Johnson's district are employed with good jobs and probably are happy with things as they are, said Johnson, a Murkowski supporter. They might not have wanted to risk upsetting things with a vote for Miller, a tea party favorite who is against big government and the large amounts of federal dollars directed to Alaska.
In neighboring District 29, represented by Democrat Chris Tuck, Miller edged out Murkowski by a few dozen votes. Turnout there was below 24 percent. Many people in that district are low- to moderate-income in an area dense with condominiums, apartment complexes and two big trailer parks, Tuck said. People are upset with Washington, D.C., but seem to like Murkowski, Tuck said. He figures mainly diehard voters turned out in his area and that probably benefited Miller.
Miller's message really took off in the Valley, where he had the support of Sarah and Todd Palin.
Committed volunteers there made a huge difference, getting businesses to put up huge Miller signs, walking in parades and making personal pitches by phone, DeSoto said.
"There is a huge amount of really solid, Christian, constitutionalist, conservatives out here," said one of those volunteers, Amy Walker of Palmer. "This is the community where families live."
Miller hammered away at the message that Murkowski is just too liberal, and Walker said she did her own research through the Washington Post website and other sources to confirm it was so, as far as the Valley is concerned.
Miller's candidacy got Valley residents fired up, she said.
At the Palmer Colony Days parade in June, "we had over 100 volunteers show up to walk for Joe. We had five vehicles. We had two, three horses. We had skateboarders. We had moms with strollers," Walker said. "It was fabulous."
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER