DENVER >> Senate races in three states and a handful of gubernatorial races remained extraordinarily close Wednesday and seemed destined for contested vote counts that could drag on for weeks.
The tight votes signaled how closely divided American voters are in an election that produced a split Congress, with Republicans taking control of the House and Democrats maintaining power in the Senate.
The candidates in the Washington state and Colorado Senate races were separated by a few thousand votes after campaigns that attracted tens of millions of dollars in spending. The Republican nominee in the Alaska Senate race was already gearing up for a legal fight and sending lawyers to the state.
Several gubernatorial races were in similar territory, including Minnesota, Oregon and Illinois.
It could take weeks before a winner is named in Alaska’s Senate race because of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in candidacy.
No U.S. Senate candidate has won as a write-in since Strom Thurmond did it in 1954, but with 99 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday, write-ins had 41 percent of the vote.
Tea party favorite Joe Miller, who beat Murkowski for the GOP nomination in August by just 2,006 votes, received 34 percent.
But the write-in count only speaks to total ballots cast for write-ins — not to names written on them. Murkowski is one of 160 write-in candidates eligible for the race that featured former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s vigilant support of Miller, and pro-Murkowski ads featuring the late Sen. Ted Stevens.
“And so we wait,” Miller said in a Twitter post after polls closed.
The focus now turns to how and when the write-in ballots are counted. Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees elections, said write-in votes for “Joe Miller” won’t count toward Miller’s tally because he isn’t an official write-in candidate.
Miller’s campaign manager, Robert Campbell, suggested a battle loomed.
“As cliched as it is, it’s not over till it’s over,” he said.
The lieutenant governor said he planned to ask the Division of Elections to begin determining who received write-in votes within the next few days.
“The whole point is, we want to do the right thing and we want to do it as fast as we can,” he said.
In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet declared victory Wednesday morning over tea party Republican Ken Buck. Only thousands of votes separated Bennet from Buck, and Buck hadn’t conceded — but there were enough Wednesday to avoid a mandatory recount.
In Washington, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray led Republican Dino Rossi by about 14,000 votes out of 1.4 million cast. Washington votes almost entirely by mail, and it can take several days to receive and tally all the ballots working their way through the mail.
Washington has a long history of tight races. Rossi lost the 2004 governor’s race by just 133 votes and endured a similarly tight vote in a rematch four years later. In 2000, Maria Cantwell edged Sen. Slade Gorton by about 2,000 votes.
Florida has a unique place in American history when it comes to close vote counts given its role in settling the 2000 presidential race. This year, it looked like it could have been the site of a smaller post-election squabble in the governor’s race between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink.
Scott was clinging to a lead of just tens of thousands of votes out of more than 5 million cast when Sink conceded the race Wednesday.
In Minnesota, Democrat Mark Dayton and Republican Tom Emmer were in a too-close-to-call race that stirred memories of the state’s bitterly contested 2008 U.S. Senate election. With election returns in from all but 19 precincts statewide, Dayton led by 9,257 votes out of more than 1.8 million cast. That’s within the margin that triggers an automatic recount under state law.
In the Senate race, 475 votes separated Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken the morning after Election Day, and they were left waiting more than half a year before the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Franken had won.
In Vermont, the gubernatorial election between Democrat Peter Shumlin and Republican Brian Dubie had seemed headed for the Legislature to decide the winner.
Under Vermont’s Constitution, lawmakers chose the governor if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote plus one vote. No candidate had at least 50 percent Wednesday morning, but Dubie conceded to Shumlin’s 3,000-vote lead. He has said he wouldn’t pursue election in the Legislature if he was clearly behind in the popular vote.