Is Joe Miller too 'tea party' for Alaska?
Joe Miller, the 'tea party'-backed Republican candidate for Senate in Alaska, is trying to turn traditional Alaska politics on its head. It might not work.
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The "tea party" favorite, a Fairbanks attorney who upset incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary in August, Mr. Miller was all smiles as he talked in the back of the convention hall with Fox News's Greta Van Susteren. But when that pleasant chat on national television was over, Miller walked into the hallway and, after avoiding eye contact with local reporters, lectured them about their perceived shortcomings and then abruptly left.
The local reporters had wanted to ask pointed questions: Did a series of embarrassing revelations, including details about a falling-out with his last employer, mean he isn't who he portrays himself to be? He took no questions, however, and announced: “We’ve drawn a line in the sand. You can ask me about background, you can ask about personal issues – I’m not going to answer.” Then he ducked into a nearby stairwell.
To some, the exchange was the latest example of Miller thumbing his nose at the way politics in Alaska is conducted – a decision that could cost him on Election Day.
Longtime Alaska political journalist Michael Carey quips: "Joe Miller can go on Fox News all he wants. What he has to do is convince people in Shishmaref." Yet Miller has largely done the opposite – schmoozing with Fox News and national radio talk show hosts regularly while avoiding many of Alaska's hinterland villages and many traditional voting blocs.
The late Sen. Ted Stevens became the gold standard in Alaska politics by bringing federal money back home – helping the sparsely populated state deal with enormous challenges of infrastructure, cultural survival, and basic services. Yet Miller, who moved to the state in 1995, has built his campaign on an antigovernment message and on severing Alaska from that largess.
Critics say he has run a "tea party" campaign tailored to the Lower 48, and in the process has shown a lack of understanding of the unique issues Alaska faces. To Miller's supporters, though, that is precisely his Palin-esque charm: a man on a mission to shake up Alaska politics-as-usual.
Alaska split into thirds
Polls show that he retains the cast-iron support of about one-third of Alaskans – the conservative wing of the Republican Party that was inspired by tea party energy and money in the Republican primary and pushed him past Senator Murkowski.
But his insistence on tilting at traditional Alaska politics has partly prevented him from expanding his support beyond that base. An Oct. 13 poll by Rasmussen Reports puts the race almost dead even: 35 percent for Miller, 34 for Murkowski (who has mounted a write-in campaign), and 27 for Democrat Scott McAdams.
That gives him little leeway for weathering charges of a rocky professional past and a personal history at odds with his antigovernment rhetoric.