JUNEAU, Alaska — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Monday she feels that Republican leaders have turned their backs on her as she mounts a write-in bid to try to hold onto her seat.
Murkowski, who lost last month's GOP primary to tea-party-supported Joe Miller, told The Associated Press that she understands this, though: GOP leaders are "committed to a process that is pretty absolute."
"You've got a situation where people are, they're counting numbers. And if it's a Republican body, that's the body we want," she said in an interview from Anchorage. "Here in Alaska, what I hear so often is, 'I vote for the individual. I look at the person, I don't really get myself tied into the party label.'"
She said she recognizes that Alaska is a conservative state. "But I also recognize that in order to get things done, we take the good ideas from our colleagues that are on the other side of the aisle, we work to advance policies and proposals that are good for everybody, not just the Republicans."
Later, she added: "We all know that Washington, D.C., is far too partisan right now. And I think when we allow the numbers to dominate over quality, I don't think that that helps us."
When Murkowski conceded the race Aug. 31, support within the Republican establishment began shifting to Miller, a self-described "constitutional conservative" who believes the federal government is on the brink of bankruptcy, spending must be reined in, and Alaska must be given greater control over its resources to help wean it off what he calls its over-dependency on the government.
Miller, endorsed by Sarah Palin during the primary race, has since garnered support from several of Murkowski's colleagues and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The committee has pledged at least $212,000 to help him win and has urged her to get on the bandwagon and back Miller.
Murkowski said she can't endorse Miller, who she says has espoused ideas outside the mainstream, or Scott McAdams, the Democratic challenger and small-town mayor she calls likable but inexperienced. She said she has heard from an overwhelming number of Alaskans that they also couldn't support either candidate – and she ultimately decided to run to give those Alaskans a choice.
Murkowski resigned her leadership position within the Republican conference last week. She said she didn't want her decision to stay in the race to cause dissension within the group. Murkowski maintains her committee positions, including that as the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee.
GOP rules allow any Republican senator to try to remove her by forcing a secret ballot vote of the 41-member caucus, but that is unlikely to happen before the Nov. 2 general election, according to GOP staffers and other observers. There are only a few weeks left in the legislative session, with no action on major bills expected.
Murkowski plans to spend most of her time between now and the election in Alaska, locked in "a political fight that will determine the future of the state," spokesman Steve Wackowski said.
A Miller spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
History isn't on Murkowski's side: No one in Alaska has been elected as a write-in, and the last Senate candidate to be successful in doing it was South Carolina's Strom Thurmond in 1954, before Murkowski was even alive.
She acknowledged the long odds and the speculation she's heard that if she ran and lost, any political aspirations she might have had beyond this race are over. As recently as Thursday night, hours before she was scheduled to announce her intentions to Alaskans, she wasn't sure what she'd do. She said she couldn't, in good conscience, sit out – and she wouldn't be running if she didn't think she could win.
Murkowski has several things going for her, including her widespread name recognition and about $1 million in the bank. The senator, who built a reputation as a centrist throughout her political career, hopes to draw support from a broad cross-section of Alaskans. The biggest bloc of registered voters in the state is nonpartisan and undeclared.
She dismissed criticism from groups like Tea Party Express that her re-entry is about ego or keeping a title. The group spent more than $550,000 in support of Miller during the primary and vowed to work twice as hard to defeat Murkowski this time.
"I've got folks back in Washington, D.C., right now that are saying, 'Well, Lisa was a pretty reasonable person, and now she just seems like a renegade,'" Murkowski said. "I'm putting my personal reputation (at stake), which, as a public figure, that is so much of who you are. But also, what people need to remember is, yeah, I'm nice, I'm likable. But I'm also a fighter for my state. And I'm not going to sit back and say Alaskans should not have a choice. I'm going to give that, and I'm willing to take personal risk in order to do so."
She said she plans to use all $1 million of her campaign money and she's raising more. While Murkowski said she's gotten checks since her announcement, Miller, too, has used her re-entry to raise money. He tweeted Monday that his campaign had surpassed an initial goal of raising $100,000 since Friday "to elect the true conservative."
McAdams' campaign says it has raised about $300,000 since the primary and plans to reach $1 million in donations also.
Associated Press Writer Matt Daly in Washington contributed to this report.