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For Alaska's Joe Miller, handcuff incident adds to mounting troubles

Security guards for Senate candidate Joe Miller of Alaska put a journalist in handcuffs Sunday. It was only the latest problem to beset the Miller campaign in recent weeks.

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The incident might not hurt Miller, considering that journalists are generally unpopular, says Mr. Dittman. It is understandable that Miller would be annoyed by persistent questioning and by having a camera put in his face Michael Moore-style, he adds.

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Yet other Alaska political observers disagree. The confrontation caused “unbelievable damage” to Miller’s chances and shows that he is “just out of control,” says Ivan Moore, an Anchorage political consultant who normally works for Democrats.

“Maybe his gung-ho, machine-gun-toting right-wing supporters love it,” Moore said. “The rest of us are saying, ‘Oh my God.’ ”

For Jay Ramras, a Republican state legislator from Miller’s hometown of Fairbanks, who knows Miller well and has clashed with him – and the tea party – repeatedly this election cycle, the actions go beyond bad campaign tactics.

“He is showing dangerous characteristics that the electorate should be paying attention to," says Mr. Ramras. "To call it dumb excuses the behavior.”

Miller said the response of his hired security guards was justified. He accused Mr. Hopfinger with threatening behavior.

“While I’ve gotten used to the blog Alaska Dispatch’s assault on me and my family, I never thought that it would lead to a physical assault. It’s too bad that this blogger would take advantage of a 'Town Hall’ meeting to create a publicity stunt just two weeks before the election,” Miller said in a statement.

The empty chair

On Monday, Miller skipped a freewheeling but friendly debate hosted by the Alaska Dispatch, the news organization where Hopfinger is an editor.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is waging a write-in campaign after being edged by Miller in the GOP primary, and Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, sat at a front table in a popular Anchorage restaurant, exchanging questions and sometimes humorous banter across the empty chair that stood between them.

Milller could not attend the debate because he had a scheduling conflict on the Kenai Peninsula, spokesman Randy DeSoto said. But Miller wound up canceling the event and the trip to the Kenai Peninsula, according to local media accounts.

Not showing was a mistake, says Dittman. “I personally think that it would be better if Joe went to the Dispatch (debate) and handled it in a humorous way,” Dittman said before the debate. “I don’t think Joe has anything to lose from that Dispatch forum.”

But Miller did not appear interested in mending fences. Late Monday, he sent out a fundraising appeal that focused on the confrontation and was titled “When Liberals Attack.”

“We’ve got the liberal media and their establishment cronies on the ropes. With only two weeks left in this fight, please take a few minutes today to help us finish strong,” said the fundraising e-mail.