JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: a look at the dramatic Senate race in Alaska that came to an end last night.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): We made history.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Alaskans made history.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski claimed victory last night, the first write-in winner in a U.S. Senate race since Strom Thurmond did it in South Carolina in 1954.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Well, tonight, after eight weeks, I think we can say, our miracle is here. Our miracle is here.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: A week of counting the write-in ballots gave Murkowski a lead of more than 10,000 votes over Republican Joe Miller. He won the official Republican nomination over Murkowski in a primary last August, with heavy backing from the Tea Party...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SARAH PALIN (R-AK), former governor: Hello, Alaska! We have got to send Joe Miller to the United States Senate.
JUDY WOODRUFF: ... and from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She had beaten Murkowski's father in a Republican gubernatorial primary in 2006. But the incumbent senator refused to give in and launched her write-in campaign, over the objections of national Republican leaders.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: They tell me that this can't be done, that this is a futile effort. Well, perhaps it's one time that they met one Republican woman who won't quit on Alaska.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: That was a not-so-subtle swipe at Palin, who stepped down early as Alaska's governor.
Still, Murkowski maintained that her run wasn't about feuds or intraparty politics. For his part, Miller has not conceded. Instead, he's leaving open the possibility he will pursue a full recount.
And Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski joins us now from Anchorage. Senator, congratulations. How does it feel to have made a piece of history?
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Well, it's -- I mean, it is. It is historic. It feels great. Alaskans are in a pretty good mood today. Let's put it that way.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, how confident are you that Joe Miller is not going to ask for a recount? I noticed that the National Senate Republican Committee is not saying whether he should concede.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Well, I don't know what -- what Joe Miller will do. I certainly hope that he takes a very, very critical look at the numbers.
Alaskans have spoken clearly, and they have written it down. And they wrote in my name. Over 100,000 Alaskans filled in that oval and wrote in "Lisa Murkowski." And they did so, for the most part, correctly.
We are up over 10,000 votes. If -- if the challenged votes that the Miller camp has contested, if every single one of those were to be thrown out, I would still beat Joe Miller by well over 2,000 votes. So, I think it is time to look at the votes, look at the numbers, and accept that Alaskans have spoken.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What did you learn, Senator Murkowski, from the Republican voters who went for the more conservative candidate?
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Well, in an election, it's all about what that candidate has to offer.
Joe Miller was -- was clearly appealing to that more conservative element. But, in our state, we have got -- we have got over 54 percent of the electorate that chooses not to align themselves with any party at all, not Republican, not Democrat, not Green, not anything.
And, so, it was important to make sure that all Alaskans, regardless of your political stripe, felt that they had somebody who's going to represent their best interests. I think that's what this election was about. They wanted somebody that was going to be a consensus-builder, someone that was going to work to bring people together to really work to effectively govern.
That's what Alaskans are looking for. And I think that's what you saw in the outcome of these numbers.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you did, as you're just suggesting, have to rely on Democrats, independents, and other voters to win.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Yes. Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think those non-Republicans are looking for from you -- for from you in the years to come? And is this going to change your approach to being a senator?
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Well, I think what they are looking for is the same thing that any Alaskan is looking for: Represent our state. Work together with people that have opposing viewpoints to build good policy that allows our state and our nation to go in a positive direction.
I think that's what voters are looking for. I don't think that -- that most are looking for somebody that is going to follow the litmus test of one party or another, and never deviate from it. I think they want us to think, and I think they want us to work cooperatively together.
So, that's my pledge to all Alaskans, regardless of whether you are the most conservative Republican or the most liberal Democrat. I'm going to try to find a way that we can find common ground to help the state and to help our country.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Tea Party had a huge influence, of course, in what happened in your state, because, of course, they -- it was -- it was through their support that Mr. Miller won the Republican primary.
How concerned are you that they may be taking the Republican Party too far to the right?
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: You know, I think that is something that the political pundits will be ruminating over for some time after this election.
And, as we move into 2012 and what's going on with the presidential race, I think we're going to be looking to see what is that level of strength and organization and commitment. So many of the -- the initiatives that the Tea Party advances are ones that I think so many of us agree on.
The need to reduce our spending and our deficit, the need to push back on government and regulations, the importance of keeping our taxes low, these are not revolutionary concepts. These are not things that I would oppose or, I think, most Americans would oppose. It's just how we get there, how we advance the solutions.
It shouldn't be that we're governing based on fear or anger. We should be governing based on the positive things that we can build. And I think that's where the difference is more with the Tea Party, not necessarily the things that they are espousing, but how we utilize these energies.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Quick question about your former governor, Sarah Palin. How big a setback was this for her?
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Mm-hmm. I don't know. You're going to have to ask her that one.
JUDY WOODRUFF: She did support your opponent.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Yes, she did. She did.
But, you know, again, Alaskans were looking at this not so much as who endorsed who, but what does that candidate have to offer our state? Is it a vision of optimism, or is it -- and one of unity -- or is it one that is built on fear?
And I think Alaskans took the vision of opportunity and consensus and working towards -- towards good governance.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to leave it there, with another congratulations. Senator Lisa Murkowski, thank you for talking with us.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI: Thank you. Appreciate it. Thanks so much.