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Miller Adjusts to Life as the Frontrunner in Alaska

Miller Adjusts to Life as the Frontrunner in Alaska

By Scott Conroy - September 10, 2010


For a man who in some ways embodies a deeply Alaskan brand of anti-elitism, Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller's educational and professional background has a surprising amount in common with President Obama's.

Miller's campaign web site notes that upon arriving in Alaska 16 years ago, he accepted a position "at a prestigious law firm in Anchorage" and became the youngest serving State Magistrate at the time of his appointment.

And like Obama, the 43-year-old Miller received his law degree from an esteemed Ivy League Institution.

"My experience at Yale Law School was quite enjoyable," Miller said in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "Most of my peers were quite liberal, and a limited number of conservative colleagues. I thought the faculty was fairly well balanced."

Miller used his law school experience as an opportunity for intellectual exploration, just as Obama did, in which he honed his already well-defined Constitutional philosophy.

"It strengthened my foundation in a sense that of course I engaged in debates with my more liberal colleagues and found that my perspective, I thought, came out on top," Miller said. "I think that the appropriate approach to the Constitution is to apply the founders' intent. I had that attitude going in, and I had that attitude going out."

Indeed, Miller's emphatically strict constructionism and limited government ideals make him in many ways the embodiment of the tea party-backed candidate, perhaps even more so than former Governor Sarah Palin, whose endorsement proved so critical to his shocking victory over Murkowski.

A decorated Army commander in the first Gulf War, the 43-year-old West Point graduate came to Alaska 16 years ago and is an avid outdoorsman.

During his primary campaign against incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Miller aired a web advertisement in which he appeared on camera, wearing a red-and-black checkered shirt and blue jeans, picking up moose antlers as he strolled through the forest.

But although Miller may play up his folksy side, even a brief conversation revealed a sophisticated, surprisingly polished candidate, especially for someone who remains a political neophyte.

"President Obama's vision of the federal government is just so completely contrary to our own," Miller said. "He sees an expansive role, and he sees that as being an answer to recession. We see a restrictive role as being the answer. Limiting the growth -- in fact, reversing the growth-and transferring the power back to the states."

As he continues to await word on whether Murkowski will mount a write-in campaign and turn the general election a three-candidate race, Miller sounded nonplussed.

"She made a commitment the Friday before the Tuesday election in which she said she would respect the will of the primary voter," he said. "And we expect that she'll keep her word."

And if she doesn't?

"It was a commitment she made. I guess she'll have to figure out what that means if she decides she doesn't want to follow through with it, but again, we think she's going to keep her word."

Miller spoke to RealClearPolitics before meeting with an official from the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Anchorage, and he said that he had buried the hatchet with the group that his campaign previously suggested was involved in vote tampering.

The NRSC has already cut Miller a check for $42,000 and has pledged an additional $178,000 in "coordinated funds" to his campaign, the maximum allowed by Alaska law.

Additionally, The Hill reported on Thursday that Miller will travel to Washington, D.C., at the end of this month for a series of fundraisers.

National Democrats have highlighted the NRSC's financial commitment to Miller to suggest that Republicans are worried about his chances in what was once considered a safe seat.

Still, polls have shown that even if Murkowski were to run as a write-in candidate -- a prospect that presents glaring challenges -- Miller would remain the frontrunner in the general election.

As Democrats running against tea party-backed Republicans have done in other states, Democratic Senate nominee Scott McAdams has cast Miller as a far-right wing extremist.

But rather than softening his rhetoric for a general election audience, Miller has defended his ideology as one that is squarely within the mainstream.

"If you characterize my views as extreme, you're going to have to characterize the founders as extreme because we're just simply going about restoring the Constitutional republic -- that's what we want to do," Miller said. "It's not something that's out there on the fringes, it's something that I think is the only answer to where we're at today."

Though his hardline views on domestic issues are clear, Miller's foreign policy ideology is a bit harder to pin down.

Asked about his stance on the war in Afghanistan, Miller was quick to point out that anyone who ignored terrorist threats, "especially those that are growing in Afghanistan," was misguided.

But Miller then added a caveat which strongly suggested that he is much more of a foreign policy realist than a Bush/Cheney-style neoconservative.

"What I don't want to see our country get dragged down with is feel-good foreign policy," Miller said. "The purpose of our engagement isn't to grow democracy across the world. The purpose of our engagement is to root out the things that threaten our national interests, and that has got to be our laser focus. It can't be sidelined by unwinnable objectives or things that really don't fall within our national interests, and so I think that's going to require perhaps a refocus."

But when asked about Iraq, a war that he said he originally supported, Miller's answer carried definite shades of gray.

"I would have to say that yes, I was in agreement with it," Miller said. "How it was conducted, not necessarily. I think there's a lot of 20/20 hindsight that can be applied. Obviously where we are today is a very sound position."

Miller's own political position at the moment is a lot more sound than almost anyone would have expected just a few weeks ago, but Alaska politics are notoriously capricious, and many uncertainties remain.

One of the most intriguing questions is whether Palin, who resides in the heart of Miller's political base in the Mat-Su Valley, will make public appearances on his behalf in the general election. She declined to do so during the GOP primary race.

"That's her choice," Miller said. "Frankly, we're satisfied and in fact honored by the assistance that she gave us in the primary."

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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