JUNEAU - Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who conceded the GOP primary to tea-party backed Joe Miller last month, said she'll decide by Friday whether to mount a write-in candidacy.
It's the only option remaining for Murkowski if she wants a chance to hold onto her seat. On Monday, Libertarian candidate David Haase said he wouldn't step aside to clear a spot on that party's ticket. And Murkowski, in a statement released Tuesday, said she couldn't have sought the Libertarian nomination in good conscience, anyway.
"As disappointed as I am in the outcome of the Primary and my belief that the Alaska Republican Party was hijacked by the Tea Party Express, an outside extremist group, I am not going to quit my party," Murkowski said. "I will not wrap myself in the flag of another political party for the sake of election at any cost."
California-based Tea Party Express, through its PAC, reported spending more than $550,000 in support of Miller. The group, which sought to brand Murkowski as a liberal and a Republican in name only, repeated claims that Murkowski opposed the repeal of the federal health care overhaul - a claim that Murkowski called false. She pointed to her record to prove her point.
The group has vowed to do whatever it can to ensure Miller - a self-described "constitutional conservative" - gets elected in November. But Amy Kremer, Tea Party Express' chair, said the group is not extremist but rather made up of "mainstream Americans; we have the people of this country behind us. That's why we're able to do what we do."
Kremer said Murkowski, whose warchest included outside PAC money, "was fired by the people of Alaska, and as far as us coming in and hijacking the Republican Party, we didn't at all. She had the party behind her, and the people spoke and they chose to be represented by someone else."
Murkowski has said she received an outpouring of support from Alaskans urging her to stay in the race. There were two ways she could do that, either as a third-party or a write-in candidate. She met with Haase last week, as a courtesy, she said, to friends approached the Libertarians, without her direction, about the possibility of her appearing on their ballot. But she also made clear she wouldn't change her views, and for her to run as a Libertarian, she would have had to join the party and sign a pledge stating that she does not believe in or advocate the initiation of force for social or political goals.
That leaves the write-in option - an option that historians and election officials say no Alaska politician has been successful in pursuing.
On Tuesday, Murkowski said she would "continue to seek advice from my fellow Alaskans about what is best for the state's future and announce a decision by Friday."
While a write-in represents an uphill fight, Murkowski enjoys widespread name recognition in the state; voters wouldn't have to spell her name precisely, so long as their intent is clear, and she's proven to be a formidable fundraiser.
On the other hand, some in the Republican establishment, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Alaska GOP and several of her Senate colleagues, have already lined up behind Miller, who's called on Murkowski to join the bandwagon in the interest of uniting the party. And there are questions about what a failed run would mean for her political future.
With this, Murkowski, Alaska's senior senator, planned to return to work in Washington on Wednesday.