Joe Miller's Challenges Pile Up in Alaska

Joe Miller's Challenges Pile Up in Alaska

By Scott Conroy - October 25, 2010

It's been a tough few weeks for Alaska Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller.

When a late push by Sarah Palin helped the tea party-backed Fairbanks attorney pull off the 2010 primary season's most stunning upset by defeating incumbent GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski in August, Miller appeared ready to coast to victory in November.

But Miller's road to Washington suddenly became more treacherous when Murkowski announced that she would launch a write-in general election bid to keep her seat and that this time she would not make the mistake of essentially ignoring Miller, as she did for the better part of the primary race.

Since relaunching her campaign, Murkowski has focused her attacks on painting Miller as a paranoid extremist who is "not fit to lead," as she declared in a debate with Miller and Democratic nominee Scott McAdams on Sunday.

But at least as worrisome to Miller's prospects of holding off Murkowski has been his own slew of troubles over the last several weeks.

Among Miller's most embarrassing public relations misfortunes was the surfacing of an angry email sent by Todd Palin to Miller and others, which blasted Miller for sidestepping the question of whether Sarah Palin was qualified to be president and ordered a SarahPAC official to withhold additional support for the GOP Senate hopeful.

"This is what we're dealing with," Miller wrote in a forwarded message that revealed his exasperation with the Palins, whose support had been critical to his primary win. "Note the date and the complete misconstruction of what I said. Holy cow."

Miller began to draw even tougher scrutiny from the Alaska press when he announced that he would no longer answer questions about his background until Election Day. The declaration of silence was followed by a bizarre incident in which Miller's private security guards handcuffed an Alaska reporter after he aggressively attempted to get Miller to answer questions after a public event.

Miller then admitted that he was slapped with an ethics violation in 2008 when he worked as a Fairbanks North Star Borough attorney for using local government computers to conduct political polling as part of his bid to unseat Alaska's Republican Party Chairman.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) began running advertisements in Alaska last week on behalf of Miler that did not even mention Murkowski - an ommission that led some, including Murkowski herself, to suggest that national Republicans secretly hoped that she would defeat Miller. Murkowski has said that she will continue to caucus with Republicans if she retains her seat.

And Politico recently reported that the California-based Tea Party Express, which spent nearly $600,000 on Miller's primary fight, has contributed less than $18,000 to his general election contest, although a spokesperson for the group said that number would be significantly increased before Election Day.

Miller leads Murkowski by 1 percent in the latest RealClearPolitics polling average, but the race is particularly difficult to poll accurately, due to the complexities of addressing Murkowski's status as a write-in candidate and the shifting dynamics in the three-way race.

Although his bid remains somewhat of a longshot, McAdams remains a critical factor in the race and trails Miller and Murkowski by single digits in some recent polls.

On Monday, both the NRSC and Murkowski campaign launched a pair of advertisements designed to undermine McAdams. The NRSC ad lumped McAdams in with President Obama and the national Democratic agenda, while the Murkowski spot reminded Sitka voters that their city's Democratic mayor was only a part-time employee and has been registered to vote in Alaska for just 10 years.

"A vote for Scott McAdams is definitely a vote for Joe Miller," a local business owner declares in the Murkowski ad.

As Miller sought to regain his footing in the campaign's final full week, he was provided another assist from a familiar figure on Monday, as Sarah Palin put aside whatever private misgivings remained after the Todd Palin email revelation and signed her name to an email fundraising plea for the Miller campaign.

"Conservatives need to rally around Joe Miller," Palin wrote. "While Lisa Murkowski and her special interests have nothing to lose in this race, Alaskans and conservatives across the country have everything to lose."

Palin's email concluded with a thinly veiled reference to her long running feud with the Murkowski family. In 2002, Frank Murkowski used his authority as the newly elected governor to appoint his daughter to his vacated Senate seat. Four years later Palin launched her now metoric political rise by defeating Frank Murkowski in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

"Joe Miller will fight for the people of Alaska and this great country. Public service should be an honor, not a family dynasty," Palin wrote.

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

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