Joe Miller tries again in Alaska: Another tea party dust-up?

Tea party favorite Joe Miller won the Republican US Senate primary in 2010, but lost to GOP incumbent Lisa Murkowski's write-in campaign. Now he's back, exploring a challenge to Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in 2014.

Ben Margot/AP
Republican candidate for United States Senate Joe Miller speaks during a rally Nov. 1, 2010, in Anchorage, Alaska. Miller is exploring another run for the Senate in 2014.

Alaska seems headed for another lively US Senate race.

Tea party favorite Joe Miller has filed Federal Election Commission papers to challenge incumbent Sen. Mark Begich, one of several sitting Democrats seen as vulnerable by the GOP.

“Support from the grass roots has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are moving forward within those guidelines organizing, fundraising, and coordinating with our volunteer base,” Mr. Miller said in a statement when broke the news Tuesday.

Miller is best known for challenging incumbent Republican US Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010. With the backing of national tea party groups and Sarah Palin, he beat Senator Murkowski in the GOP primary by 2,006 votes out of 109,750 cast.

But Murkowski, a moderate Republican, came back to wage a write-in campaign backed by native corporations, political action committees, and some unions, dashing Miller’s hopes and holding onto her seat – the first time in more than 50 years that a US Senate candidate had won a write-in campaign.

Miller did not go down without a fight, however, challenging the election results up the Alaska state court system until a federal judge finally dismissed Miller’s suit and Murkowski was certified as the winner two months later.

Apparently, the 2010 loss still smarts. Miller seems almost to be running as much against Murkowski as Begich.

“Though I was labeled an ‘extremist’ by the likes of Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich for telling the truth, both of our sitting senators now routinely engage in such ‘extremist’ rhetoric with respect to federal overreach, government spending, and entitlement reform,” Miller writes on his Restoring Liberty website.

Miller’s political manifesto is straight out of the tea party wing of the Republican Party.

“With the re-election of Barack Obama, our very way of self-government is in peril,” he says. “The Constitution is under attack, the value of human life degraded, religious liberties are threatened, the Second Amendment is increasingly in jeopardy, and the right to protection from unlawful search and seizure is giving way to a virtual surveillance State.”

He warns of a “looming debt crisis” and “the coming downgrade of America’s credit rating.” The US senators he says he most admires: Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah – those who will “confront President Obama, not one who will cut a deal to negotiate the terms of our surrender to his radical socialist agenda.”

Miller is a West Point graduate who served in the Gulf War, holds a law degree from Yale University, and has been an Alaska state judge and US Magistrate. He and his wife have eight children.

Alaska politics can be wild and wooly as well as highly personal – see Sarah Palin – in a vast territory with few people and a small-town feel. (Senator Murkowski’s father is a former governor.)

Miller’s career has not been without controversy and the occasional tinge of media-fanned scandal.

Earlier this month, a state judge ordered Miller to pay $85,000 in attorney’s fees to the Alaska Dispatch online news organization in Anchorage tied to a 2010 lawsuit to make public Miller’s employment records during his time as a part-time government lawyer. At one point in the dust-up, Miller’s security men at a town hall meeting handcuffed the editor of the Alaska Dispatch.

“Miller’s conduct, which included taking inconsistent positions, failing to disclose information during discovery, and his procedural filing, which the record did not support, all caused unnecessary delay and costs for both Alaska Dispatch” and the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides wrote in her ruling.

Is there any chance that Ms. Palin could jump into Alaska’s 2014 US Senate race? It may be unlikely, but recent polls could tempt the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee.

She enjoys a 62 percent favorable rating among Republican voters in the state, according to a Harper Polling survey earlier this month, and she leads Miller 52 percent to 19 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head match.

Miller, meanwhile, has a 49 percent to 34 percent unfavorable-favorable rating in that poll.

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